“What this president has done, to me, is shameful. It’s just shameful,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
“The behavior of the past week is just jaw-dropping,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.
Powerful condemnation from two top New Jersey Democrats of Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Trump appeared today at the bilateral Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin who has denied any Russian hacking. When asked whether he believed Putin or his own U.S. intelligence, Trump dropped a bombshell.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you, President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.
“What does it mean when a President of the United States will not defend his country against the attack of a foreign power? What does it mean when that foreign attacks, that he is willing to sit down and deny the attack happened and buddy up to that leader on the world stage?” Booker asked. “This is presidential malfeasance. It’s commander in chief dereliction of duty, and every American should be outraged right now by what we just saw in Europe.”
The Helsinki meeting followed an indictment Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice of 12 Russian military officers. They were charged with hacking emails in Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an attempt to disrupt the election. But Monday, the president repeatedly refused to blame Putin or Russia.
“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish,” Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly attacked the special counsel’s investigation into the 2016 election, perhaps fearful it would cast uncertainty upon the legitimacy of his presidency. This, even as the director of National Intelligence warned, “the warning lights are blinking red again” about Russian cyber interference.
“We will pay a price for that. Our country will pay a price for that,” Murphy said.
New Jersey’s already at risk, according to a recent study by Democrats in the House Administration Committee. It found New Jersey’s one of the five most vulnerable states to election tampering because voting machines in New Jersey have no paper backup.
“Without a paper record, the state is unable to conduct meaningful postelection audits,” according to the report. “While the new administration appears to be prioritizing cybersecurity, it must move with greater urgency to replace its voting machines in advance of the 2018 elections.”
“We’re looking very seriously at the security of our voting systems in New Jersey. More on that later,” Murphy said.
Helsinki only heightened worries about the security of U.S. elections, given Trump’s demands to end the investigation.
“That was a total witch hunt,” Trump said.
“Not only is his behavior shameful, but his behavior is also indicative of somebody who has something to hide,” Booker said.
New Jersey’s working on hardening its election machinery, but it’s unknown whether it’ll be able to install any kind of paper backup on the ballots before the midterms.