Rep. Dana Rohrabacher doesn’t see anything special about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“The fact is that everybody knows big countries meddle in each other’s elections. I’m not excusing it, but we meddle in theirs, they meddle in ours,” Rohrabacher, R-Calif., told radio station KNX Los Angeles Radio on July 21.
In the same interview, Rohrabacher dismissed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government as a distraction “from the issues that count.”
“The most disturbing thing about this whole issue of Russia is that it’s being used to divert — both intentionally and unintentionally — to divert attention away from the issues that really count” such as illegal immigration, Rohrabacher said.
His comments mirror those of President Donald Trump, who has equated the governments in Washington and Moscow and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions, as a candidate and since taking office.
Both the intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee have concluded Putin directed a covert campaign to help Trump win the election.
Rohrabacher has faced growing scrutiny about his ties to the Russian government, especially after acknowledging he met with accused spy Maria Butina in St. Petersburg, Russia. Butina was charged by the U.S. government in July for acting as a spy while pursuing a degree at American University and getting involved in conservative American politics.
In 2012, FBI agents told Rohrabacher they were concerned that the Russian government was attempting to make him a source for intelligence about the United States and that Russian intelligence had even given him a codename, according to a report by The New York Times.
Rohrabacher has refused to answer questions about his ties to Russia. In a July press conference, the congressman told reporters to “ask whatever you want” but berated a reporter who asked about his meetings with Russian officials.
“You guys should be ashamed of yourselves for trying to divert attention,” Rohrabacher said.
His GOP colleagues have privately mused about his affinity for Russia and Putin.
According to The Washington Post, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a 2016 private meeting with Republican leaders, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”