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At White House, GOP Rep. Roskam confronts Trump on Putin: ‘He was defensive’

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Il., attends a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. Trump says he meant the opposite when he said in Helsinki that he doesn't see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON — Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., told the Chicago Sun-Times he pulled aside President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday after a meeting on tax policy to raise his concerns about Trump siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their press conference.

“His reply was defensive in nature,” Roskam said.

On Monday, Roskam – usually a Trump ally but now taking his shots, faced with a strong Democrat challenge in a district that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 – in a statement chewed out Trump for not confronting Putin in Helsinki.

ANALYSIS

“Today’s press conference was an affront to American democracy and the Intelligence Community and a victory for Russian propaganda. The President has a duty to hold Vladimir Putin to account,” Roskam said in his statement.

On Tuesday, Roskam, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, was at the White House with other GOP panel colleagues for a meeting to talk tax policy that had been set up late last week.

Before the meeting started, 6th Congressional District Democratic rival Sean Casten sent out a statement demanding that Roskam “stand up” to Trump while at the White House and call him out to his face.

Did Roskam do that?

“As the meeting was adjourning, and I went up to him personally,” Roskam told the Sun-Times.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, center, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks in the Cabinet room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, center, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks in the Cabinet room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Roskam said he related a story to Trump about a meeting he had with Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem a few years ago.

Sharansky became one of the most famous faces in the movement to save Soviet Union Jews and allow them to emigrate. He spent years in Soviet prisons before his release. Freed, Sharansky moved to Israel and became a major political figure and human rights activist.

Roskam said he related to Trump about how Sharansky told him how, while in prison, he found hope in President Ronald Reagan’s speech calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”

Roskam said, “And the point that I made to the president is, that is the voice that the world needs to hear from the president of the United States when interacting with Vladmir Putin.

“Now President Trump in this discussion was very defensive. … He essentially said it’s not that simple. Today is more complicated and so forth. … And that was essentially the nature, that’s the essence of the discussion.”

I asked Roskam if his story about Sharansky served to hold Trump to account, as he called for in his Monday statement.

“I think that the essence of what I was saying, that this is a lost opportunity and I think that’s why the president was defensive when I was talking to him.”

I asked Roskam if Trump knew who Sharansky was. “I think he did. I made it easy for him.”

Trump is a problem for Roskam.

Trump is a defining factor in the battle for the 6th Congressional District suburban seat. The contest is drawing national attention as Republicans fight to retain control of the House — and Roskam is a major Democratic target.

For better or worse for Roskam, the session to talk about tax legislation came a day after Trump seemed to side with Putin — and reject U.S. intelligence — when questioned about Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

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Roskam was in the Roosevelt Room seated at a big table with Trump when the president made a rare acknowledgement of a mistake and the need for “clarification” about Russian interference.

Trump said, “In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’

Before the meeting started, Casten said in a statement, “Today at the White House Peter Roskam should demand President Trump renounce his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and put America first,” said Casten in a statement.

I asked Roskam if he did, as Casten suggested, call out Trump to his face.

Said Roskam referring to his Monday statement and Tuesday pull aside, “I did it publically and I did it in the White House. “