Trump backing off idea of ‘cyber security unit’ with Russia

President Donald Trump smiles as he walks on the South Lawn upon arrival the White House in Washington, Saturday, July 8, 2017, from the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump appears to be backing away from the idea of working with Russia to create a “cyber security unit” to guard against election hacking.

Trump tweeted Sunday morning about discussing such a unit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yet it’s Russia that U.S. intelligence officials blame for meddling in last year’s election.

Widespread ridicule greeted Trump’s tweet. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina calls it “pretty close” to the dumbest idea he’s ever heard. A Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff of California, says expecting Russia to be a credible partner in any cybersecurity initiative “would be dangerously naive.”

By Sunday evening, Trump was tweeting a different tune. He wrote that just because he and Putin discussed the idea “doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t.”

Another Senate Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, said on Twitter that “partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.'” Rubio was referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.”

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter equated the move to “like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.”

And Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that expecting Russia to be a credible partner in any cybersecurity initiative “would be dangerously naive for this country.”

“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” he said.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, however, defended the move, arguing that working with Russia on cybersecurity “doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on ’em and keep them in check.”

Trump said that “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” after his lengthy meeting with Putin. But he is still avoiding the question of whether he accepts Putin’s denial that Russia was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election.

Speaking in a series of tweets Sunday, the morning after returning from a world leaders’ summit in Germany, Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice over Russian meddling during their meeting Friday.

Trump said that Putin “vehemently denied” the conclusions of American intelligence agencies that Russian hackers and propagandists tried to sway the election in Trump’s favor. But Trump would not say whether he believed Putin, tweeting only that he’s “already given my opinion.”