President Donald Trump once again sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies, drawing harsh blowback from top intelligence officials.
“[Putin] said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did,” Trump said, contradicting the findings of the intelligence community that Russia waged a cyberwarfare campaign against the US during the election and is continuing to do so.
When pressed on whether he believed Putin, Trump replied, “Look, I can’t stand there and argue with him. I would rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I would rather … get to work with him on the Ukraine.”
Despite claiming that he wanted to move on to more pressing topics, Trump again came back to the issue to add, “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Trump also attacked former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey as “hacks” and said that Putin is “very insulted” by the scandal.
He later warned “people will die” as a result of the tension with Russia, though he did not explain why or how they would.
Trump continued to defend Putin throughout the end of the trip, arguing that Russia is overly sanctioned.
“People don’t realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” Trump said. “They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”
The comments drew a strong rebuke from Brennan, who warned that Trump is creating a national security problem that could have significant consequences by playing footsie with Putin over his intelligence agencies.
“I think Mr. Trump knows that the intelligence agencies, specifically CIA, NSA and FBI, the ones that really have responsibility for counterintelligence and looking at what Russia does, it’s very clear that the Russians interfered in the election,” Brennan told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“And it’s still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin,” he added. “The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real. And I think his continuing to not say very clearly and strongly that this is a national security problem, and to say to Mr. Putin, we know you did it, you would have to stop it, because there are going to be consequences if you don’t.”
Clapper and Brennan both agreed that Trump is being “played” by the former Kremlin spy.
“I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered,” Brennan explained. “And, also, I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations. So, it’s very worrisome. And I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes as well. So, it’s either naivete, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians.”