Congressional Republicans' trip to Russia was a shameful fool's errand.

Until a few years ago, the only senior Republican who had anything good to say about Russia was California's eccentric Rep. Dana Rohrbacher who, despite representing the John Birch Society's old Orange County stamping ground, seemed totally beguiled by Russia and most particularly by Vladimir Putin.

But in 2016, he got the high-level affirmation for his dalliance with the oligarchs and poisoners in the Kremlin from then-presidential nominee Donald Trump, who initially maintained in the face of the unanimous opinion of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia made no effort to influence our last presidential election.

Trump ultimately accepted the assessment but has continued to maintain that Russian interference had no impact on the outcome. Trump's dismissive attitude towards the significance of Russian meddling appears to stem from his need to believe that he needed no outside assistance in his triumph over Hillary Clinton.

But now, at the very time that a preliminary report from the Senate Intelligence Committee points to clear and convincing evidence of Russian interference, a delegation of seven members of Trump's party — seven senators and one House member — have trooped over to Moscow to be lectured to by Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his sidekick former Russian ambassador to the United States and alleged part-time spy Sergei Kislyak. What could possibly have prompted seven senators and one congresswoman to abase themselves and, to make matters worse, do it on the Fourth of July?

Perhaps the visit would have been less jarring if the police in West Wiltshire in the UK were not at the time in the process of tracking down the source of the poisoning of a British couple with the nerve agent Novichok, a signature Russian-produced pathogen that had been used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Moscow's persistent efforts to disassociate itself from Novichok would be like the U.S. denying the American origin of the Big Mac. Did the eight lawmakers really think that the Russians would fold in the face of this display of congressional muscle and confess their efforts to dirty us up during the 2016 election? If so, they were stymied by the wall of belligerent denial they they encountered.

They should've known better

More disappointing was the membership of the group that included Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking senator in the Republican Party's Senate leadership. These prominent members along with well-regarded members like Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas have generally been regarded as sensible and level-headed, but in this instance managed to delude themselves into thinking that some good could be derived from sitting across the table from men who are virtuosos of deceit and obfuscation.

People who strive to make distinctions between the president's refusal to believe the Russians' capacity to act in bad faith and others in his party — notably those on Capitol Hill — who are less narcissistic and insecure must be having a hard time seeing this group as anything other than a collection of naive dupes who are giving the Russians one more public opportunity to restate their implausible denials of tampering with our democratic process.

More: How Donald Trump could speed up Robert Mueller's Russia investigation: Talk to him.

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Are these senators not aware of the fact that under Vladimir Putin Russia has reverted to being an old-fashioned communist dictatorship minus the ideology but with the same paranoia, the same penchant for aggression and the same intolerance of political dissent? In their desire to achieve some kind of reset with Russia, did they choose to overlook the machinations of "Cozy Bear" and "Fancy Bear" and the other sinister trolls who contaminate the Internet? Are they not aware of the cyberattacks on neighbors like Estonia and Georgia or the continued armed aggression against another neighbor, Ukraine?

Finally, there is the unfortunate fact that the mission to Moscow consisted only of Republicans. One redeeming feature of these congressional trips — typically derided as taxpayer-financed "junkets" — is that they are usually bipartisan. We don't know whether Democrats were invited but declined because they were astute enough not to be used as props by Putin or that they just weren't asked, but the effect of the all-GOP membership was to create the impression that they were acting as advance men to smooth things over before the upcoming Helsinki summit between Trump and Putin. Lacking the legitimacy of bipartisan membership and unrealistic in its objectives, the trip comes off looking like a fool's errand.

Ross K. Baker is a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. This article was published on USA Today on July 8, 2018


July 8, 2018

Post Script. Seeking favor from the traitor in the WH and Putin, the 8 GOP Senators Name's above celebrated the 4th of July in Russia. Russian commentators called them weak and gloated about Russia's role in Trump's election. How stupid can the GOP get! Elect them out!

Soon Trump will meet privately with his master American diplomats, no secret service, no accountability. Call your Senators and Congress people and say this isn't the American way, or remind them of what even the Heritage Foundation knows

Let’s add one more thing to Trump’s list. America will never let Putin elect an American to the White House again.

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