U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who returned last week from a five-day trip to Russia with fellow GOP lawmakers, told MTN News that the delegation delivered a “very direct message” to top Russian officials to stay out of the 2018 and future U.S. elections.
Daines, who spoke to MTN News from Air Force One as he flew with President Trump to attend a campaign rally in Great Falls, said the American delegation spoke with Russian lawmakers and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavlov about election interference and other bones of contention on international policy, such as Russian actions in Ukraine, the Crimean peninsula and the Syrian civil war.
“We sent them a very direct message,” he said. “The first is: `Do not interfere with our elections.”
Daines left for Russia June 28, along with a half-dozen other Republican U.S. senators and representatives.
When asked why no Democratic lawmakers were invited, Daines said Republicans felt that the message on election interference would have more credibility and force coming from the GOP, instead of lawmakers whose emphasis on Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. elections might be seen as more political.
Daines said the group went first to Helsinki, Finland, where President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to have a summit on July 16. They met with the Finnish foreign minister and U.S. Ambassador to Finland Robert Pence. They later visited St. Petersburg and Moscow, where he said they met with Russian lawmakers and Lavlov.
He said the group had a “very sober assessment” from U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, of the "strained relationship” between the two super-powers. Yet, Daines said it’s “important to have a dialogue” with the country that, with the United States, possesses 80 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
In addition to the message about not interfering with U.S. election, the delegation also said Russian needs to “respect the sovereignty” of its neighbor, Ukraine, and the Crimean peninsula within that country, and to work with the United States to bring peace to war-torn Syria, Daines said.
Daines said he left Moscow early last Wednesday morning and returned to Washington, D.C., via Amsterdam and Detroit, and then boarded Air Force One Thursday morning to accompany President Trump on his trip to Montana. Trump spoke at a campaign rally Thursday afternoon in Great Falls.
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., also was on Air Force One.
He told MTN News that he and Daines briefed the president on issues important to the state, such as natural resource development and public lands.
“It’s great to have a president that cares about Montana, and takes the time to come out and meet the people,” he said.
Trump spoke to about 6,000 people at the Four Seasons Arena late Thursday afternoon and a statewide television audience. He spoke in favor of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale and criticized U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is up for re-election this year, saying Montanans should vote him out of office.