Sen. James Lankford says he was "caught off guard" by news of Trump-Putin congratulatory call

Lankford on Trump-Putin congratulatory call

After President Trump said he had called to congratulate Russian President Vladmir Putin on his latest election win, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said he was "caught off guard" by the news and urged the president to address issues like election security and human rights issues the next time the two leaders speak. 

"Presidents can say what presidents choose to say," Lankford said on "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday, "but they also need to understand they carry the weight of the entire United States, so I'd hope that every president is careful in what they say, including this one."

Lankford, a Republican who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted that Mr. Trump's predecessor placed a similar call to Putin after a previous election win.

"Russia has not been our friend for a very long time, that's consistent, but I'd hope that the president every time that he talks to Putin would bring up things like arms race issues, human rights issues and he would bring up election security," he said.

Mr. Trump made the call even though he was advised against congratulating Putin on his reelection victory, CBS News' Jeff Pegues reports.

Is Lankford concerned that Mr. Trump might also disregard advisers' warnings when he speaks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

"Obviously the meeting with Kim Jong Un is exceptionally important and should be well scripted and should be well done by all of our State Department and by the White House as well," he replied.

But he said all presidents rely on their own judgment in such situations.

"Any president can do what the president chooses to do. You could go back as far as – President Reagan was advised multiple times not to say, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' He was advised by the State Department and multiple advisers, 'don't say that word.' That's one of the most famous lines from President Reagan." 

Lankford and fellow senators were caught by surprise Tuesday when a reporter first asked them about the Trump-Putin call following  a bipartisan meeting on election security issues in the wake of the 2016 campaign. CBS' "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert poked fun at Lankford's stunned reaction to the question Tuesday night. Lankford said Wednesday that was the first they'd heard of the call.

"Obviously we'd all been in intelligence hearings all morning, we'd not even heard it. That was the first time many of us had heard it,  and Stephen Colbert is correct, if I'd had a smoke bomb I would have used it at that point just to be able to slip out," joked Lankford. 

As for election security, Lankford said he hopes to press Department of Homeland Security officials who are speaking before his committee on their ongoing process to thwart future interference in U.S. elections. 

"Department of Homeland Security a year ago started the process of trying to be able to engage on the issue of election security, we'll hear that today in the testimony and we'll ask the questions in public what we've asked in private for a year, what are we doing to actually protect our elections in the future and we'll hear their progress of what they've done."

Lankford said he expects that other "copycat" actors like North Korea, Iran and "domestic hacktivist groups" would follow Russia's example in attempting to tamper in future elections. He said he expects the U.S. to be more diligent in communicating that threat to the states. 

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"