WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, publicly pressed President Donald Trump Friday morning to forcefully call out Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country's meddling with the 2016 U.S. elections.
Trump met with Putin on Friday as part of a major conference of the world's economic powers in Hamburg, Germany.
"It's not on their agenda, but I do think the president should bring this up," McCaul, an Austin Republican, said on MSNBC. "It's the elephant in the room, and it's an important issue to the American people, and it's important for the American president to raise it with him to let him know that we know it happened, and we're not going to stand for that, and there will be consequences."
McCaul, who was a top adviser to Trump during the presidential race and was a contender to lead Trump's Department of Homeland Security, made his remarks in a series of Friday morning cable news interviews.
McCaul on Friday left no room for debate on whether Russians were at fault.
"The intelligence reports I've received and briefings — very clear and convincing evidence it was a nation-state, attack by Russia," McCaul said on MSNBC. "I don't think you can really dispute that. ... Everybody who's had the briefing has [been] consistent in saying that."
Trump has drawn criticism from members of both parties for his comments on Russia going back to his time as a candidate. He created controversy anew back home when he cast doubt on Thursday in Poland over who committed the cyberattacks and the U.S intelligence community's capacity for accuracy.
"I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries," Trump said. "I see nothing wrong with that statement ... Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure."
When asked on CNN why the president continues to raise doubts, McCaul suggested Trump continues to be concerned about whether the outcome of the 2016 election is viewed as legitimate.
"I think he, perhaps, thinks it undermines the credibility of his election, possibly," McCaul said of Trump.
McCaul also said that ahead of last year's election, he urged former President Obama to more forcefully criticize Putin on the cyberattacks.
McCaul is among those in the House pushing to strengthen sanctions against Russia. Such a measure passed the Senate in June by a near-unanimous vote. The push has stalled out in the House — and has met resistance from within the Texas delegation — but McCaul said he hopes to pick the issue up in the coming weeks.
McCaul said on Fox News that any sanctions measure passed should avoid "unintended consequences" to American businesses. When asked about a statement from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office that tied the House GOP's slow walk on sanctions to "complicity in the Trump White House's weakness toward Trump," McCaul responded by urging House Democrats to stop "playing politics"
"I think we're going to get there," he said. "It's too important of an issue."
Trump did end up raising the issue in his meeting with Putin Friday, but did not emphasize any potential consequences, according to news reports. The American and Russian accounts of the meetings diverged, with the Russians suggesting Trump accepted Putin's denial of the attack.
"There was not a lot of relitigating of the past," recounted U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the meeting, to the New York Times.