Key House Republican says ‘Russia attacked this country in 2016’

Outgoing South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy took Russia to task over alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and suggested President Donald Trump ask Russia to extradite its recently indicted nationals.

“Russia attacked this country in 2016,” Gowdy, the chairman of the influential House Oversight Committee, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Gowdy broke again with Trump in the interview by declaring the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller is decidedly not a “witch hunt” and pointed to the two rounds of indictments from Mueller against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. At the same time, Gowdy noted that no U.S. nationals “have been indicted with respect to conspiring to impact the 2016 elections.”

“My focus is on the first thing: what did Russia do,” Gowdy said. “And that’s not a witch hunt. That’s an attack on our country.”

Gowdy’s comments came a day ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin in Finland, where the two leaders were holding an extended sit-down Monday. Gowdy said he wanted Trump to give “serious consideration” to a point blank request of Putin to give the U.S. all 13 Russians that Mueller indicted in February and the 12 members of Russian intelligence the U.S. charged last week.

“Your first requests of Vladimir Putin needs to be: tell us which airport we can pick up the 25 Russians that tried to interfere with the fundamentals of our democracy,” Gowdy said. “If you really claim you had nothing to do with it that you should be as shocked as we were that your military was being used to impact our election. Tell us where you’re going to extradite those folks because an American grand jury indicted them for undermining our democracy.”

Trump said in an interview with CBS over the weekend that he “hadn’t thought” of raising a longshot extradition request with Putin, but indicated he would ask about it.

“Well, I might,” Trump said. “I hadn’t thought of that, but certainly I’ll be asking about it.”

Then shortly before his meeting with Putin began on Monday, Trump sent a tweet pinning the hostile relationship between the U.S. and Russia on “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Gowdy is not the only Republican to criticize Russia in the run-up to Monday’s meeting. The message from Trump prompted Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, a relatively critical voice toward Trump within his party, to say the President should declare Russia the nation’s enemy and focus on cyber-attacks.

“A better thing, Mr. President, would be to declare: “Russia is the enemy of America and our allies, and we will expose and respond to their continued cyber-attacks against our nation,” Sasse tweeted.