Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was forced to defend himself from criticism on Sunday after sharing an image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a Zoom call despite being asked not to for security reasons.
Rubio told CNN’s State of the Union that around 300 people were on the call, and claimed its details had already been well-publicized and so his photo was ‘no security risk.’
He also suggested that Ukraine’s ambassador, who reportedly asked lawmakers not to share anything, was mistaken about the call being a ‘secret.’
As Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continued into its tenth day on Saturday, Rubio took part in a live video call between Zelensky and bicameral members of Congress and their staff.
Rubi and and his fellow GOP Senator Steve Daines of Montana shared images from the call on Twitter as it occurred — instantly igniting backlash and concerns for Zelensky’s safety.
Ukrainian authorities have foiled three Russian-backed attempts on Zelensky’s life just this last week, the Sunday Times reported.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio was asked during two separate television interviews about the photo he shared of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a Zoom call with Congress
Ukraine’s ambassador had ‘explicitly’ asked lawmakers and their staff on the call to refrain from sharing it on social media, Democrat Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota said on Twitter after it concluded.
Zelensky regularly posts video updates to show his people and Vladimir Putin that he is still fighting in Ukraine
CNN host Jake Tapper asked Rubio about Phillips’ tweet and whether the Florida Republican thought it was a ‘mistake’ to share the image.
Rubio insisted there were no such rules in place when he tweeted and claimed there was ‘no risk posed’ to Zelensky.
‘Well first of all, she asked that like 30 minutes into the call after I had already done it,’ the Florida Republican said.
‘The second is, I think she’s under the impression that no one knew that call was happening. That call had been widely reported, the — actually even the specific time had been reported,’ Rubio said.
‘There are over 300 people on it, all the call details had been emailed, so there’s nothing secure about that call.’
He added that the photo itself was ‘nondescript’ in its surroundings.
‘It looks like all the other ones you see out there publicly, so, I don’t — there’s no risk posed but you’re always going to have a couple of people that want their name in an article somewhere, mentioned in the press,’ Rubio said, seeming to allude to his Democrat colleague’s outrage.
Both Senator Rubio (R) (tweet pictured left) and Senator Steve Daines of Montana (R) (tweet pictured right) posted images of a Zoom call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday morning, although they were specifically told not to do so until the meeting had concluded for security reasons
Asked about it again on ABC’s This Week, Rubio firmly answered ‘no’ he did not believe he put Zelensky’s security at risk.
‘There was no security risk in that at all. I’m — perhaps she was under the impression that the Zoom call was a secret. It had been broadly reported like multiple outlets, maybe even ABC had tweeted it was at 9:30. There were over 300 people on this call,’ Rubio said.
‘The details of the call were emailed to a bunch of people. And it was a nondescript picture unlike any of the other — just like the other ones you’ve seen on the air. So, there was no security risk there.’
The 280-plus senators, House members and staff that tuned in to the virtual meeting, which ended around 10:25am EST, were explicitly asked not to tweet or post pictures of the call while it was in progress, multiple aides told NBC News.
‘[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 Zelensky,’ Minnesota Democrat Phillips tweeted.
‘Appalling and reckless ignorance by two US senators.’
Florida Senator Marco Rubio (left) and Montana Senator Steve Daines (left) posted photos from conference with Ukraine’s president
The 280-plus senators, House members and staff that tuned in to the virtual meeting (pictured), which ended around 10:25am EST
Democratic representatives, including Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes (tweet pictured) posted images from the Zoom call – but did so after the meeting had ended
The Ukrainian president (pictured on the front lines) has admitted he knows he’s Russia’s biggest target. The Wagner Group – which has 400 personnel in Kyiv alone – and the Chechen attempted to kill him in the last week
Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, also lashed out at the Republican senators for sharing screenshots of the call.
‘The lack of discipline in Congress is truly astounding,’ he tweeted.
‘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.’
The call was coordinated with the offices of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, along with the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, a Democratic leadership aide told the outlet.
Democratic Representatives Dean Phillips of Minnesota called Rubio and Daines’ tweets ‘appalling and reckless’
Democratic Representative James Crow of Colorado lashed out against the two Republican senators on Twitter
Rubio and Daines defended theirs decisions to share the photos, both calling the outcry ‘partisan.’
‘There were over 160 members of Congress on a widely reported Zoom call,’ said a spokesperson for Rubio in a statement. ‘There was no identifying information of any kind.’
A spokesperson for Daines said that his tweet, which was posted about 23 minutes into the hour-long Zoom meeting, was ‘shared well into the call… before it was requested not to’ and contained ‘no identifying information.’
‘We should be focusing on what’s important here and that’s supporting Ukraine,’ Daines’ spokesperson added.
Several Democratic representatives, including Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, also posted images from the call – however, they waited until the meeting had concluded.
Since the conflict began on February 24, Zelensky (pictured) has posted videos to his official Instagram account, directly appealing to the world for supplies and assistance
A flood of comments from Twitter users, like the one above, demandedthat the social media platform take down the senators’ tweets
Himes tweeted that Zelensky ‘is standing strong, but pleaded for more help. Planes, oil embargo, continued military aid,’ adding that, ‘We were asked to not post during the zoom. This was posted well afterwards.’
Republicans called out the senators, too, with former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele taking to Twitter to condemn Rubio specifically.
‘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,’ Steele wrote.
‘You were specifically asked NOT to share this briefing with Zelensky. Why would you risk his safety for a tweet?’
A flood of comments from Twitter users demanding that the social media platform take down the senators’ tweets caused Rubio to trend on Saturday afternoon.
During the call, Zelensky asked for a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace to be imposed on Russian-made aircraft, multiple sources told NBC. Earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any move to create such a no-fly zone would be viewed as ‘participation’ in the conflict.
Schumer reportedly told Zelensky that Congress will get $10 billion in economic, humanitarian and security assistance for the Ukrainian people ‘quickly.’
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia (D) asked about the possibility of a ban on Russian oil, a move that was hinted at on Friday by Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Zelensky also asked about imposing sanctions to stop Russia from using Visa and Mastercard. The two companies blocked some Russian financial services from using their networks earlier this week, but not all.
Republicans called out the senators, too, with former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele taking to Twitter to condemn their actions
Around 6 pm EST on Saturday, hours after the Zoom meeting with US representatives, Zelensky posted a video of another meeting with Elon Musk (pictured) that appeared to be filmed at the same location
Since the conflict began on February 24, Zelensky has posted videos to his official Instagram account, directly appealing to the world for supplies and assistance, and has been photographed in military garb on the front lines by Reuters and other outlets.
Around 6 pm EST on Saturday, hours after the Zoom meeting with US representatives, Zelensky posted a video of another meeting with Elon Musk that appeared to be filmed at the same location.
‘Talked to Elon Musk,’ Zelensky wrote in Ukrainian. ‘He thanked Ukraine for its support in words and deeds. Next week we will receive another batch of Starlink systems for destroyed cities.’
‘They also talked about possible space projects and a visit to Ukraine. But about this – after the war.’
Musk, 50, sent a collection of antennas to Ukraine this week after their president voiced concern that Ukrainians could lose internet access if Russia continues to attack communications towers, as it did with the bombing of a Kyiv TV tower on Wednesday.