(CNN)The party of Reagan is fast lurching into a mini-Cold War with itself — this time over working with Russia rather than against it.
President-elect Donald Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his denials that the Kremlin hacked the 2016 election are unleashing a feud in the GOP, which sees its hawkish history on Moscow and triumph over the Soviet Union as one of its defining achievements.
The turmoil is threatening to detract from one of the most crucial moments of Trump’s early presidency — the confirmation process for his nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has a personal friendship with Putin and opposed US sanctions on Russia imposed after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.
The idea that Russia may not pay a price for the startling allegation of seeking to undermine American democracy with a series of cyber breaches is infuriating some senior Republicans, and putting even those less hostile to Trump in a tough political spot.
“I can’t imagine I would vote for anybody that believes that we should not sanction Russia, given the fact that they did in fact interfere in our election,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on the “Situation Room” on Wednesday.
Deepening Washington showdown
The Washington showdown over how to combat Russian interference in the election is also testing the uneasy truce that has prevailed between the White House and the Trump operation since November.
And it is a sign of the unusual intra-party dilemmas beginning to unfold in Washington rooted in the next president’s unorthodox approach to policy and wielding power.
With the intrigue deepening by the hour over what intelligence agencies, the White House and top figures on Capitol Hill now agree was a Russian effort to intervene in the election, Trump weighed in with a reminder that he is not on board with this consensus.
“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” Trump told his 17 million Twitter followers on Thursday.
Trump’s comment that the administration waited until after Democrat Hillary Clinton was defeated in the election is not accurate. The alleged hacking was a topic in the presidential campaign as early as July and surfaced in the debates. In October, US covert agencies issued a statement alleging Russia itself was behind the hacks of the American political system.
But in a Fox News Sunday interview over the weekend, the President-elect suggested that there was no proof Russia had hacked the election, saying the Russian snooping in Democratic Party servers and emails of Clinton campaign staffers could have been done by China or even someone sitting in New Jersey.
Trump’s stand means that an incoming president is directly at odds with his own intelligence agencies and the assessment of the entire Washington establishment.
Following Trump’s tweet Thursday, there was one sign that his camp recognized the loneliness of his position.
A transition source said the President-elect was “concerned” about the Intelligence Community’s findings that Russia hacked the election.
But the source also said Trump and his team are concerned the issue is being used to delegitimize his victory. Trump aides have consistently accused the Democrats and critics of Trump in the CIA of drumming up the hacking issue to undermine his victory in November.
Tillerson in trouble?
Unless there is an evolution in the nascent administration’s position on Russia, especially over sanctions, there could be trouble for Tillerson.
Only a few Republican senators would need to defect for his nomination to be in jeopardy, assuming most Democrats in the chamber — where the GOP has a 52-48 majority — vote against him.
But he added: “We have got to find some platforms of stability to start working together if we can. Can they find enough common ground? We will see.”
Trump’s intentions toward Russia will become clearer once he has a full foreign policy team in place.
In the meantime, the controversy over the Russian intelligence operation is straining the fragile detente between Obama’s White House and the Trump transition effort.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest took exception on Thursday to Trump’s attitude, recalling that the President-elect’s campaign team had described his call on Russia to hack Clinton’s email server over the summer as a joke.
“I don’t think anybody at the White House thinks it’s funny that an adversary of the United States engaged in malicious cyber activity to destabilize our democracy,” Earnest said on Thursday.
And Earnest, presumably reflected increasing impatience with Trump among senior officials in the White House, also rebuked him for his refusal to accept that Russia was behind election meddling.
“It might be time to not attack the intelligence community but to actually be supportive of a thorough, transparent, rigorous, nonpolitical investigation into what exactly happened,” he said.
Read more: www.cnn.com