WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A foreign policy adviser to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump confirmed his attendance at a meeting last month during which the Republican Party agreed to watered-down language in its support of Ukraine.
J. D. Gordon, the adviser who previously served as a Pentagon spokesman, said that while he was present during the meeting at the Republican National Convention, he sat at a side table with staff and was not among the delegates charged with shaping the Ukraine platform.
But one delegate in attendance, Diana Denman, said Gordon told her he was going to speak with Trump during the debate over the platform’s language on Ukraine, saying she believed Trump’s campaign played a direct role in softening the party’s support for Ukraine at a time of heightened tensions with Russia.
The Trump campaign has denied it played any role in the weakening of the party’s position regarding Ukraine. Gordon called Denman’s version of events “inaccurate.”
Stephen Yates, co-chair of the national security subcommittee, confirmed that Trump campaign members were present at the meeting where Ukraine language for the RNC platform was discussed. But he said only delegates participated in the debate and denied the Trump campaign played any role in softening the Ukraine language.
The details of the meeting in Cleveland have attracted scrutiny and raised questions about the Trump campaign’s stance toward Russia.
Trump has said he would seek to build a closer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, praising him as a stronger leader than U.S. President Barack Obama. In the last month, Trump has also suggested he might not defend NATO allies if they did not spend more on defense, appeared to invite Russia to hack the emails of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and suggested he might accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Denman, a member of the platform committee’s national security subcommittee, said she proposed language that supported “providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces and greater coordination with NATO on defense planning.” That phrase was eventually changed to remove the reference to “lethal defensive weapons.”
In the end, the platform, which serves as a largely symbolic statement of the party’s priorities, criticizes the Obama administration for encouraging a “resurgent Russia” and supports continued sanctions on Moscow and “appropriate assistance to the armed forces of the Ukraine” without specifying what that would involve.
Yates said Denman could have reintroduced the amendment in the full committee meeting if she felt strong-armed in subcommittee. “I don’t have particular sympathy for delegates who chose not to avail themselves of the opportunity in full committee, and then start spinning yarn about how this came about,” he said.
Denman said she stands by her account.
Russia on Thursday announced it would conduct war games in the Black Sea, a day after Putin accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict over Crimea.
Editing by Jonathan Oatis