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Trump's talk of cybersecurity unit with Russia takes the spotlight

In a surprise move coming out of the G-20 meetings with the world's most powerful leaders, President Trump on Sunday shifted conversation from trade or healthcare or climate change – all key topics at the summit – to his proposed "Cyber Security unit," a joint operation with Russia focusing on cyberattacks.

Lawmakers and members of Trump's administration on Sunday had strongly mixed opinions about the idea of working together with Russia on the issue of cybersecurity.

Some chided the idea as "dumb" and "naive," while others praised the effort, saying it was important the U.S. cooperate with Russia, in part to ensure the Kremlin does not turn its efforts on the U.S. again in the future.

U.S. and Russian officials indicated last Friday – after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – that the two countries would work together in a number of areas, including cybersecurity.

Trump on Sunday tweeted that he talked with Putin during their meeting at the G-20 summit about forming an "impenetrable Cyber Security unit" to guard against issues such as election hacking.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday praised Trump's cybersecurity discussion with Putin, calling it a "significant accomplishment."

"What we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we're focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any Democratic elections or conduct any cybersecurity," he said on ABC's "This Week."

"And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we're doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump," he added.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also called for cooperation with the Russians on cybersecurity, despite a lack of trust between Washington and Moscow.

"From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia, we need to tell them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn't happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can cut this out and get them to stop," Haley said on "State of the Union."

"It doesn't mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball, it doesn't mean we ever trust Russia," she insisted.

Haley said the U.S. can't and won't ever trust Russia.

"But you keep those that you don't trust closer," she said, "so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check."

But several GOP senators pushed back – some strongly – on the idea that the U.S. should work with Russia in this capacity.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted Trump's comments about working with Russia to form a cybersecurity unit.

"It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close," Graham said on NBC's "Meet The Press" when asked about Trump's plan.

Graham added that he is "dumbfounded" by Trump's approach to Russia.

"To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin, regarding cyberattacks, is to empower Putin," Graham said. "I am disappointed, and at the end of the day he's hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin is a bad guy."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joked he thinks Putin would be helpful regarding cybersecurity – because the Russian leader is the one doing the hacking.

"I'm sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he is doing the hacking," McCain said on CBS's "Face The Nation," laughing.

McCain also said Russia needs to pay a price for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"There's been no penalty whatsoever," McCain said, echoing a concern of Graham's. Both men are on the Senate's Armed Services Committee; McCain is chairman.

"Yes, it's time to move forward, but there has to be a price to pay," McCain said.

If there are no consequences, Putin will be "encouraged" to do so again, he added.

Similarly, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) rejected the idea that the U.S. could work with Russia on cybersecurity, saying the Russians are not a "credible partner."

"I think that 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," Schiff said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Trump met Friday with Putin at the G-20 summit.

After the meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both suggested the countries would focus on cybersecurity.

Lavrov – who attended the meeting with Trump, Putin and Tillerson – told reporters the U.S. and Russia would launch a "bilateral working group" that included a focus on cybersecurity.

"It was agreed that all of these issues, including anti-terrorism efforts, fight against organized crime and hacker activities in any of their manifestations will be in focus of bilateral Russian-US cooperation. A bilateral working group will be set up for these ends," Lavrov said, according to Russian state news outlet TASS.

Tillerson told reporters the leaders planned to put in place "a working-level group" to handle cybersecurity issues.

"The two leaders also acknowledge the challenges of cyber threats and interference in the democratic processes of the United States and other countries, and agreed to explore creating a framework around which the two countries can work together to better understand how to deal with these cyber threats," Tillerson said.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted he and Putin "discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded ... and safe."

Trump also tweeted that he "strongly pressed" Putin during the meeting on the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but that the Russian leader "vehemently denied it." Trump has not said whether he accepted Putin's denial, but Putin said he thought he did.

In Poland last week, Trump said that he thinks Russia and "people in other countries" likely meddled in the 2016 presidential race, but "nobody really knows."

"[Trump] is literally the only person I know of who doesn't believe Russia attacked our election in 2016," Graham said Sunday.

[Source: By Rebecca Savransky, The Hill, Washington, 09Jul17]

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