'The president is clearly scared of Russia': Dem senator blasts Trump's 'weakness' against Putin
Sen. Chris Murphy (MSNBC)

A Democratic senator said President Donald Trump signaled his weakness against Russia with his curious signing statement on a new sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress.

The president signaled his disagreement with the legislation codifying sanctions for Russian interference in the 2016 election -- an assessment he had publicly doubted -- and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" he was concerned about Trump's objection.

"The president is clearly scared of Russia, and that's been consistently conveyed by his policy on Russia since he was in," Murphy said. "It certainly is a sign of weakness. He was being taunted on Twitter by the Russian prime minister (Wednesday), and I think you have to put it in context of other things that have been happening in the last few weeks."

Murphy pointed out that the State Department seems poised to stop promoting democracy as part of its organizational mission -- a move Russian President Vladimir Putin would no doubt celebrate.

"(This) is at the heart of what the State Department has been doing for 70 years and is probably the biggest thorn in the side of Russia, given the fact that we are often promoting democracy in prices that they are trying to influence around their periphery," the senator said. "So, yeah, I think there's a clear message sent to Russia by doing this quietly. I think there's a lot of irony in the president saying he's doing it for national unity amid signing a statement where he's attacking the United States Congress."

Trump again attacked Congress via tweet nearly an hour after the segment aired.

Reporter Julia Ioffe, who emigrated from Russia as a child, pointed out the irony in Dmitry Medvedev taunting Trump's fecklessness, because Putin wouldn't allow him to run for a second term as prime minister -- but his message signaled Russian anger over the sanctions.

"Trump's signing statement indicates that they know how bad this is, so the Russians -- they got the message from Trump's signing statement, and they're running with it," said Ioffe, who writes about foreign policy for The Atlantic.

Ioffe pointed out that former President Barack Obama didn't like the limits on his power imposed by the Magnitsky Act, but she found it strange that Trump criticized Congress over the sanctions law but not Russia for "insanely" cutting the U.S. embassy staff by more than 700.

"The idea that he’ll go after a golf magazine and not this is insane," she said.

Murphy also expressed alarm that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had made the highly unusual decision to turn down money for his department — $80 million to fight terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation — because he’s reportedly afraid of angering Putin.

"It was stunning this week to find out that Secretary Tillerson is refusing the money," said Murphy, who co-wrote legislation setting up the special unit to combat foreign propaganda.

"It was set up as a transfer from the Department of Defense to the Department of State, and you just simply cannot win the battle against extremism if you're not pushing back against their online propaganda," he continued. "You certainly can't win the battle against Russia if you're not pushing back against Sputnik radio and RT TV, but right now the State Department doesn't want that money. It suggests there's a pattern of behavior in which we're giving a permission slip to the Russians to engage in an expansive activity in the periphery without any check from the United States."