International

Next US House foreign affairs chief vows to check Trump, warns Russia

The incoming head of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee warned Thursday of election-related sanctions against Russia and vowed oversight of Donald Trump's diplomacy, which he said had made Americans "laughingstocks."

Representative Eliot Engel, the presumptive next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after Democrats triumphed in midterm elections, vowed that the incoming Congress would question the executive branch
Representative Eliot Engel, the presumptive next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after Democrats triumphed in midterm elections, vowed that the incoming Congress would question the executive branch (AFP)

The incoming head of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee warned Thursday of election-related sanctions against Russia and vowed oversight of Donald Trump's diplomacy, which he said had made Americans "laughingstocks."

Representative Eliot Engel, who is the presumptive next chairman of the committee after Democrats triumphed in November 8 elections, vowed that the incoming Congress would question the executive branch, a constitutional role he said the Republicans neglected for fear of irritating Trump.

In an interview with AFP in his House office, decorated with pictures of him meeting leaders from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama and namecards of himself in myriad alphabets, the 30-year congressional veteran from New York said he remained outraged at Russia's actions in the 2016 elections.

Engel said the Democratic-led House was ready to punish Russia if it is determined that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow, an allegation being probed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"I think if we find out that for sure that we were compromised in our elections, I think there should be, absolutely, sanctions," Engel said.

"I think this is a whole new ballgame because the Congress that we're leaving was under a lot of pressure with the Republican majority to try to leave the president alone -- not to question, not to ask. And my attitude is that my country is more important than my party," he said.

The Trump administration has taken a number of actions against Russia including expelling 60 officials over the attempted assassination with a chemical agent of a Russian double agent in Britain.

But Trump has repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt" and sought warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including at a summit in July in Helsinki where the US leader's tepid public statements triggered wide rebuke.

Engel vowed to seek answers about what happened in Helsinki and during other diplomatic meetings by the Trump administration, voicing alarm at the image of the United States.

"The United States must continue to be the leaders of the free world and be a country that people look up to. Right now they're not looking up to us," he said.

"We're kind of the laughingstocks."

"Putin becomes our friend and the UK and Germany and France become adversaries. Canada becomes an adversary. Mexico, all we care about is building a wall. All these foolish things that sort of turn everything on its side. We need to change that."