Jeff Flake rips Trump: A president 'who cannot take criticism ... is charting a very dangerous path'

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President Donald Trump's use of the terms "fake news" and "enemy of the people" is "shameful" and reminiscent of words infamously used by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to describe his enemies, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Wednesday. (Source: Senate TV) President Donald Trump's use of the terms "fake news" and "enemy of the people" is "shameful" and reminiscent of words infamously used by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to describe his enemies, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Wednesday. (Source: Senate TV)

By Daniella Diaz, CNN and Matthew Daly, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (CNN and AP) -- Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, took to the Senate floor Wednesday morning to rebuke the president for his repeated attacks on the truth as well as his colleagues for failing to be a check on Trump.

"No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions," Flake said in his speech. "An American president who cannot take criticism -- who must constantly deflect and distort and distract -- who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the President adds to the danger."

[WATCH RAW VIDEO or READ: Flake's speech on the Senate floor]

Flake also compared Trump's attacks on the news media to the rhetoric of late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and highlighted the longstanding consequences for Trump's attacking the truth.

"For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last," Flake said.

He criticized the President for calling the news media the "enemy of the people," calling it "an assault as unprecedented as it is unwarranted."

"It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies," he said. "It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader."

[RELATED: Trump insults Arizona senator as 'Flake(y)']

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel slammed Flake's remarks on Twitter, writing, "Sen. Flake, turn on the news. It's wall-to-wall with biased coverage against @POTUS. He has every right to push back. Comparing the leader of the free world to murderous dictators is absurd. You've gone too far."

Flake, a frequent Trump critic who is retiring this year, said that when Trump calls news stories he doesn't like "fake news," he "should be the figure of suspicion, not the press."

The White House had no immediate comment.

Flake has said he is not comparing Trump to Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of millions, but said Trump's use of a term favored by Stalin, "enemy of the people," is chilling.

"This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party,'" Flake said.

[RELATED: Sen. Flake says GOP is 'toast' if it follows Trump, Moore]

Arizona's other Republican senator, John McCain, also decried Trump's use of the term "fake news" and said Trump was encouraging autocrats around the world "to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens."

In an opinion column in The Washington Post, McCain said Trump's attempts to undermine the free press "make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable." Constant cries of "fake news" undercut legitimate reporting and "strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent," McCain wrote.

Trump's first year in office "was a year which saw the truth - objective, empirical, evidence-based truth - more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government," Flake said, referring to the president.

In a direct attack on Trump, Flake said the impulses underlying Trump's attacks "are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated."

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Politics]

Trump's use of the term "fake news" has encouraged authoritarian leaders around the world, who now routinely dismiss criticism as "fake news," Flake and McCain said, citing comments by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, among others.

Flake, who announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2018, has said he will use his remaining time in the Senate to speak out against the President when he believes it is warranted.

Flake announced his decision to retire in a Senate speech in October that bemoaned the "coarsening" tenor of politics in the United States and criticized his own party's "complicity" with Trump's behavior.

[WATCH and READ: Sen. Flake's full speech on the Senate floor]

The Arizona Republican has said he doesn't have any formal plans to run for President after his time on Capitol Hill.

"I don't rule anything out, but it's not in my plans," Flake told ABC's "This Week" last month.

[RELATED: Sen. Jeff Flake may run for president in 2020]


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