Ernst: Trump needs to step up against Russia

Iowa senator concerned about behavior of country and its leader

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Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Thursday she isn’t sure what the White House’s posture is toward Russia, and she called on President Donald Trump to take a tougher stand against the country and its president, Vladimir Putin.

On a conference call with Iowa reporters, Ernst expressed alarm at what she called the aggressiveness of Putin and the Russians, including new reports that a Russian spy ship was sitting 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut.

Several media outlets reported the development on Thursday. Ernst said Russia is not a friend of the U.S., and this and other instances are concerning to her.

“I think this is totally unacceptable behavior by Russia and we have to show strength against Vladimir Putin. We need President Trump to step up and lead us in that endeavor,” she said.

Ernst joined other senators last week in writing a letter to the president urging a tough-minded policy toward Russia. When asked by a reporter on Thursday whether it was fair to say that she is not certain what the White House’s posture is toward the country, she agreed. “Yes, I would say that. I don’t know what their posture is right now, especially as we sort through the Gen. Flynn resignation,” she said.

Michael Flynn resigned Monday night as National Security Adviser amid revelations he’d misled Vice President Mike Pence over conversations he’d had with the Russian government in December, before Trump took office. Flynn has said he inadvertently provided incomplete information to the vice president and others and apologized.

Democrats have called for aggressive investigations into the matter, as well as other connections between Russia and the president and his campaign.

Some Democrats also have called for an independent inquiry. Asked about who should investigate, Ernst said she would defer to the intelligence committee to decide.

Congressional Democrats have complained Republicans aren’t showing enough aggressiveness, and that the seriousness of the matter deserves greater scrutiny.

Some Republicans, including Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have voiced concerns. Other Republicans have added their voices, too. Ernst said she believes it’s necessary to get more information.

“I do believe we need to know the full details of what has transpired,” she said.

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