The Slatest

Ukraine Asked Lawmakers Not to Share Photos of Zelensky During Call. Two GOP Senators Did it Anyway.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 25, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 25, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Steve Daines are coming under lots of criticism Saturday after they shared photos of a video call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky while it was still in progress even though they were specifically asked not to do so. The senator from Florida and his colleague from Montana both posted photos of Zelensky to their Twitter accounts while the Zoom call was ongoing, writing that they were talking with the Ukrainian president.

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Democratic Reps. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Jason Crow of Colorado blasted the two senators on Twitter, saying they had explicitly ignored the requests of Ukrainian officials. “Ukrainian ambassador very intentionally asked each of us on the Zoom to NOT share anything on social media during the meeting to protect the security of President Zelenskyy,” Phillips tweeted. “Appalling and reckless ignorance by two US Senators.” Crow noted that it was an example of “the lack of discipline in Congress,” adding that “if an embattled wartime leader asks you to keep quiet about a meeting, you better keep quiet about the meeting.”

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The criticism didn’t just come from Democrats. Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, also harshly criticized Rubio. “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?” Steele tweeted. “Why would you risk his safety for a tweet?” NBC News talked to several aides who said the lawmakers were told in no uncertain terms that they should not tweet or otherwise publish any photos of the call while it was in progress to protect the Ukrainian president’s safety.

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Rubio and Daines pushed back against the criticism, saying it was all much ado about nothing. “There were over 160 members of Congress on a widely reported Zoom call. There was no identifying information of any kind. Anybody pretending this tweet is a security concern is a partisan seeking clicks,” a Rubio spokesperson said in a statement. A Daines spokesperson also emphasized there were more than 250 people on the call “and it was not a secure or classified briefing.” Daines shared the photo “before it was requested not to and well into the call, and it had no identifying information,” the spokesperson said. “We should be focusing on what’s important here and that’s supporting Ukraine. The only reason why anyone wants to make this an issue is partisan clickbait.”

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Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) asks a question during a Senate hearing on  March 3, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) asks a question during a Senate hearing on March 3, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Pool/Getty Images
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During the Zoom call that lasted a little under an hour and included more than 300 members of Congress, Zelensky directly appealed to lawmakers for more help in fighting off the Russian invasion. The message was “close the skies or give us planes,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement after the call. The Ukrainian president also called for an oil embargo on Russia, which he characterized as the most significant sanction the United States could impose. During the call, Zelensky said it might be the last time U.S. lawmakers see him alive. “He is standing strong, but pleaded for more help,” Rep. Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, tweeted. “Planes, oil embargo, continued military aid.”

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