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Washington — Several Michigan lawmakers expressed dismay after President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed Russia's interference in the 2016 election and called the special counsel's probe "a disaster for our country."

Trump's remarks came at a Monday news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the two met one-on-one for more than two hours in Helsinki. 

"A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here," tweeted Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who represents the Grand Rapids area. 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, was more emphatic: "Russia is not a friend, they are a foe."

"The American intelligence community, as well as the House Committee on Intelligence, has demonstrated that Russia interfered with our election process and continues to actively undermine democracies across the globe," Huizenga said in a statement.

"Russia should not be given the benefit of the doubt, they should be held accountable for their actions.”

Michigan Democrats directly attacked the president himself and questioned his commitment to American values.   

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Trump's "bizarre bromance" with Putin is "beyond disturbing." 

"The American president should stand up for America. That should never even be a question. It's more important than ever that we protect the Mueller investigation to ensure our elections are fair," Stabenow said in a Twitter post. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, criticized Trump for accepting Putin's denial of Russian interference in U.S. elections, saying Trump "sided with Russia over his own intelligence officials and repeatedly attacked his own law enforcement agencies."

“Never before has a president so quickly surrendered and betrayed longstanding U.S. values and the security interests of the American people to an adversary. The president’s weak performance was an embarrassment on the world stage," Kildee said in a statement. 

"The only thing more disgraceful than the President’s performance is the continued silence of my Republican colleagues. When will Republicans put country over party and stop covering for this president?”

At the press conference, Putin said he did want Trump to win the 2016 election but didn't interfere to make it happen.

A reporter asked Trump whether he believed Putin or the U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Putin ordered the election meddling.

"All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it's not Russia," Trump said. 

"I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. ... I have confidence in both parties."

While diplomatic talks between nuclear superpowers are essential for the world's security, U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the United States must hold Russia accountable for its actions.

“Lest anyone think otherwise, however, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not a trusted friend of the United States," Bishop said in a statement.

"The House Committee on Intelligence, along with our American intelligence community, have demonstrated Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy here in the United States and across the world. We must hold Russia accountable.” 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he was "absolutely appalled" by Trump’s news conference and how he "openly sided" with Putin over American intelligence agencies. 

"Russia must be held accountable for election meddling, but Trump has given Putin green light to continue undermining our democracy, nat’l security," Peters tweeted. 

"And in case my Republican colleagues needed any more justification, today’s press conference in Helsinki should leave no doubt that Congress must act swiftly to protect Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference."

Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan's senior Republican, noted that he supported expanded economic sanctions against Russia in 2017 to retaliate for cyber attacks on American institutions

"“Russia is not our ally. As I’ve said all along – I trust our intelligence community’s assessment about Russian meddling in our election and fully support the independent Mueller investigation," Upton said in a statement.

“We must continue following the facts wherever they lead. We must continue holding Russia accountable for their destabilizing actions.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, tweeted: "Today's meeting between Trump and Putin put Americans' interest last. We must know what was discussed and take steps to secure our elections."

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said Russia is "an aggressive foe and Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted."

"In my review of information available to me from the intelligence community, and through hearings in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it is clear that Russian actors made a deliberate effort to sow discord in our American electoral process and hack into our election infrastructure," Mitchell said in a Tuesday statement.

"While there is no sign they altered votes, this cannot be tolerated. While I support diplomatic efforts, Russia, through its forceful annexation of Crimea, shooting down a civilian airliner, supporting of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, using chemical attacks in the United Kingdom, and more, has repeatedly demonstrated it is not a friend of America."

Trump tweeted earlier Monday that the U.S. relationship with Russia has "never been worse" after many years of "U.S. foolishness and stupidity" and now the probe of special counsel Robert Mueller. 

In response, former GOP Rep. Mike Rogers of Howell said: "Wrong." 

Rogers previously chaired the House Intelligence Committee. 

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has been trumpeting Trump's endorsement in his Republican run for Michigan governor, said in a statement Tuesday that "Russia always has been and always will be our biggest adversary in global affairs."

Schuette did not directly criticize Trump's comments, instead praising the president on other fronts.

"As a candidate for governor focused on domestic policy, I appreciate President Trump's aggressive policies of cutting taxes and rebalancing trading relationships that make for a strong economy and give America strength on the world stage," Schuette said.

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton, whose campaign has said he is more deserving of the support of Trump backers, turned the issue back on Schuette.

“We have evidence of voter fraud in Michigan in 2016 that very likely had nothing to do with the Russians. The Detroit News, for one, pointed out there were 37 percent more votes than voters in some precincts in Wayne County," said Colbeck campaign spokeswoman Anne Marie Schieber Dykstra.

"We have not seen one prosecution by the Attorney General, and Michigan needs to know why.”

In August 2017, Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said, "Justice has no timeline” and added that some voters in question were difficult for state investigators to track down.

mburke@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.

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