Marco Rubio received some unsettling news during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s continuing hearings on Trump-Russian ties. The entire Russia matter has turned into a co-mingled mess of competing interests — like with House Intel Committee leader Devin Nunes (who was on Trump’s transition team) leading an “Inspector Clouseau investigation” — but things are growing personal for Rubio, too. The Florida senator sits on the Senate Intel Committee, and on Thursday, an expert witness spoke directly to him about Russian attempts to influence the election. Clinton Watts (of the Foreign Policy Research Institute) told Rubio that Russia actively worked to harm his election prospects:
“Russia’s overt media outlets sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views of the Kremlin … they were in full swing during the Republican and Democratic primaries and may have sinked the hopes of candidates who were hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed. Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered through these efforts.”
Axio reporter Shannon Vavra tweeted that Rubio “looked taken aback, whispered to aide” upon hearing the news. However, the above C-SPAN camera angle only shows Rubio whispering to his aide while looking kinda “over it.” Perhaps Vavra was able to better gauge Rubio’s true feelings, for he has every reason to feel slighted.
Rubio, of course, conceded the primary GOP in mid-March with a final kick by Trump on the way out. Watts’ words shouldn’t be surprising, although they are in a way, since the general assumption is that Russia primarily supported Trump because of Vladimir Putin’s long-standing grudge against Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump was also effusive in his praise of Putin, who viewed him as capable of toppling Clinton.
Yet Rubio is certainly critical of the Kremlin, so he’d be an ideal target of Russia. In addition to his Senate Intel Committee stint on Thursday, Rubio also delivered remarks to the non-partisan Atlantic Council think tank. In doing so, he condemned Putin as a “tyrant,” via the Tampa Bay Times:
“It’s not Putin’s Russia, it’s Russians’ Russia. Vladimir Putin happens to have control of the government there today but Russia is not Vladimir Putin. Russia is an ancient, proud culture and tradition embedded in its people. Vladimir Putin is a tyrant that just happens to control its government.”
Last weekend saw mass protester arrests in Russia — in the largest demonstration against Putin since 2012 — in nearly one hundred anticorruption rallies that spread across the country.