House Speaker Paul Ryan pilloried Russia Thursday night, calling the foreign power a “global menace” and its leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin, “a man who is menacing.”
The Republican leader made the damning comments at a town hall hosted by CNN Thursday, answering a question about what Congress intends to do to penalize Russia for attempting to undermine the U.S. election.
“Vladimir Putin does not share our interests,” Ryan said. “He frustrates our interests, he violates his neighbours, he does all those things you say on free speech, he is not democratic. I really think a lot of the things that he is doing is to try and delegitimize the other democracies so that his illegitimate democracy doesn’t look as illegitimate by comparison.”
The Wisconsin Republican doubled down on his belief that Russia had “tried to affect our election,” though Ryan added that he didn’t believe it influenced the Nov. 8 race, which President-elect Donald Trump won “fair and square.”
He went on to advocate for sanctions against the country but criticized President Obama for enacting them “a little late.”
“I do think we had a bad Russia policy in the last administration. I think the reset was too much of an appeasement policy, and I think we’re now reaping the bad benefits from that,” Ryan said. “So I think we need a stronger Russia engagement policy for sure across the board.”
Ryan also addressed the unverified dossier alleging Russia’s compromising information on the president-elect, which CBS News confirmed Thursday was put together by former British intelligence office Christopher Steele.
“I don’t even want to confirm any more legitimacy about this stuff by even talking about it and I think that people have conflicted this to think that it’s somehow legitimate, that this is a product of the intelligence committee,” Ryan said. “It’s not. And I do think by including these things and merging them, it has given that misimpression…I don’t think taking opposition research from a political opponent on total hearsay unsubstantiated rumours and combing it with intelligence information was the right thing to do.
Asked if he was criticizing the handling of intelligence agencies in briefing top level government officials on the unsubstantiated report, Ryan answered in the affirmative.
“Let me put it this way: The Russians are up to no good, we all know that,” he said. “And I don’t think we should give any more credence to this.”