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GOP senators defend sharing photos during Zelensky call amid calls for Twitter to delete posts

Senators Marco Rubio and Steve Daines came under fire for posting screen grabs of President Volodymyr Zelensky just minutes into a Zoom call after being asked not to by Ukrainian officials for security reasons

Rachel Sharp
Sunday 06 March 2022 15:29 GMT
Zelensky says missiles hit Vinnytsia’s airport, reiterates demand for no-fly zone

Two Republican senators have defended sharing photos of Volodymyr Zelensky during a Zoom call with lawmakers – despite being specifically asked not to amid fears for the Ukrainian president’s safety.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Montana Senator Steve Daines came under fire on Saturday when they both posted screen grabs of Mr Zelensky just minutes into the virtual meeting, where the president pleaded for the US for more help in defending Ukraine from Russia’s attack.

Both Democrats and Republicans blasted their actions for potentially risking the life of Mr Zelensky, who is said to have been the target of at least three failed assassination attempts by the Kremlin in the last week alone.

Mr Rubio fired back at the condemnation, claiming critics were just “seeking clicks”.

“There were over 160 members of Congress on a widely reported Zoom call,” a spokesperson for Mr Rubio said in a statement to Newsweek.

“There was no identifying information of any kind. Anybody pretending this tweet is a security concern is a partisan seeking clicks.”

Mr Daines also refused to admit his actions could have posed a security breach, arguing the call with the Ukrainian president was “not a secure or classified briefing” and that he had shared the photo before anyone had asked him not to.

It is not clear why he didn’t then take the photo down after the instruction was made clear on the call.

“This was a well reported call with over 250 people joining, and it was not a secure or classified briefing,” a spokesperson said.

“The photo was shared before it was requested not to and well into the call, and it had no identifying information. 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.”

The Independent has reached out to both senators for comment.

Their responses came as social media users condemned their actions and called for Twitter to delete their posts.

President Zelensky shared this photo on his Instagram page saying he had spoken with US members of Congress (Instagram/zelenskiy_official)

“Hey, ⁦@TwitterSafety⁩ ⁦@Twitter⁩ why have you not forced him to take this tweet down?” one Twitter user asked.

“It has been reported multiple times by many people. He put Zelenskyy’s life in jeopardy. I think Rubio needs a time out. A very long time out.”

Another person tweeted: “Why hasn’t @Twitter removed Rubio’s tweet which puts a president in danger?”

Several Twitter users also said they had reported the tweet to the social media platform.

“Report Marco Rubio’s tweet: Abusive & Harmful, Contains Private Information , Other, Someone Else, Sign, Send,” tweeted one person.

The Ukrainian Embassy had asked lawmakers not to post photos or information from the call while it was ongoing, congressional aides told NBC News.

But, just 15 minutes into the roughly hour-long call at 9.30am ET Saturday morning, Mr Rubio posted a screen grab on Twitter of Mr Zelensky to his 4.2m followers.

“On zoom call now with President Zelensky of #Ukraine,” he captioned the photo at 9.45am ET.

Rep Dean Phillips hits out at Senators Marco Rubio and Steve Daines (Twitter)

Minutes later, Mr Daines then also posted a photo from the meeting on his Twitter at 9.53am ET, with the caption: “Currently on a zoom call with President Zelenskyy. #StandWithUkraine.”

Democratic Rep Dean Phillips was the first to point out their failure to comply with the request from Ukrainian officials, slamming the two senators for what he called their “appalling and reckless ignorance”.

The congressman tweeted that all lawmakers had specifically been asked not to post anything online during the virtual meeting in order to “protect the security” of the Ukrainian president.

“The 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,” he tweeted.

“Appalling and reckless ignorance by two US Senators.”

The Democrat shared a link to a social media post that revealed the tweets from the two senators.

Criticism continued to flood in along both party lines, with Democratic Rep Jason Crow of Colorado later tweeting: “The lack of discipline in Congress is truly astounding.

“If an embattled wartime leader asks you to keep quiet about a meeting, you better keep quiet about the meeting. I’m not saying a damn thing. Lives are at stake.”

Democratic Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani accused Mr Rubio of posting the photo for “clout”.

“You were told not to share screenshots and yet you did? For what reason? Clout?” she tweeted.

Members of their own party also condemned the GOP senators with former chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele questioning why Mr Rubio would risk Mr Zelensky’s safety “for a tweet”.

“Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? You are the Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and a Member of the Foreign Relations Committee,” he tweeted.

“You were specifically asked NOT to share this briefing with Zelensky. Why would you risk his safety for a tweet?”

Olivia Troye, former homeland security adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence, said Mr Rubio’s actions show a lack of concern for the Ukrainian president’s safety.

“People like Marco Rubio don’t actually care about their role in the national security apparatus & what it means to be concerned about the safety of others above one’s own self…” she said.

Concerns for Mr Zelensky’s safety have been growing after a report said that he had survived three foiled assassination attempts from Kremlin-backed groups in the week since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president previously said that he is the “number one target” for Mr Putin but turned down an offer from the US to get him out of the country, vowing to stay in Ukraine and fight for his country’s freedom.

The instruction to lawmakers only appears to have been for the duration of the live call which Mr Zelensky made from an undisclosed location in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

After the meeting ended, other lawmakers and the Ukrainian president himself shared photos of the meeting and detailed what was discussed.

Mr Zelensky said in a statement that he had spoken with the lawmakers about “war crimes” being carried out by Russian forces and urged them to up the sanctions on Moscow.

“Spoke online with representatives of both chambers and both parties of the US Congress. Told about the course of the fighting and war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine: shelling, schools, residential buildings, kindergartens, churches,” he wrote.

“As well as the danger the occupant’s pose to chemical and nuclear facilities, Ukraine needs to close airspace to protect civilians and objects of critical infrastructure.

“Urged congressmen to continue to increase sanction pressure on Russia. Appreciate the support!”

On the call, Mr Zelensky pleaded with a bipartisan group of around 300 US senators and House members for the US to provide greater assistance to Ukraine.

He called on the US to set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to implement sanctions on Russia’s energy sector and to send more military assistance for Ukrainian forces.

President Zelensky shared this photo of some of the lawmakers who joined the call (Instagram/zelenskiy_official)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that the Ukrainian president specifically asked for the West to send more planes to help with the Ukrainian defence.

“President Zelenskyy made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine. These planes are very much needed,” he said.

“And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer.”

Mr Zelensky also urged the US to increase sanctions on Russia such as banning all commercial transactions like Visa and Mastercard.

Hours later, both companies announced they had suspended operations in the country.

The virtual meeting came after Mr Zelensky hit out at Nato for refusing to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine in a video statement on Friday, saying that the decision has effectively given the “green light” for Russia to continue bombing cities across the country.

“Knowing that new strikes and casualties are inevitable, NATO deliberately decided not to close the sky over Ukraine,” he said.

“Today the leadership of the alliance gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone.”

He doubled down on this request in a video message on Sunday, saying: “The world is strong enough to close our skies.”

The Biden administration and Nato allies have repeatedly insisted that they will not establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

A no-fly zone would ban Russia from operating over the country but would require the US military to essentially start shooting down Russian planes.

Mr Putin issued a warning to the West on Saturday that any attempt to impose a no-fly zone would be taken as a declaration of war against Russia.

Despite the risks of implementing a no-fly zone, 74 per cent of Americans said they support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Pressure is also mounting on the US to ban imports of Russian oil and gas – a move that would hammer the Russian energy industry but could also lead to a spike in prices for Americans at the gas pump.

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