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    Trump says he believes Putin's denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election and disparages intelligence chiefs; later clarifies stance


    Americas: United States

    Europe / Asia: Russia


    Americas: United States


    Trump says he believes Putin's denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election and disparages intelligence chiefs; later clarifies stance


    United States President Donald Trump greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Vietnam in November 2017.  While the two men shook hands and exchanged a few words at the AREC summit, no formal meeting had been arranged.  Nevertheless, the issue of Russian interference into the 2016 election in the United states surfaced  when Trump said that he believed Putin's denial of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential contest that gave Trump the presidency of the United States.  


    Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One in Vietnam, Trump declared of Putin: "He said he didn't meddle. He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times."   Trump also indicated that he believed Putin's denial, as he added, "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that. And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."  Trump's stance placed him at odds with the findings from all of the country's intelligence agencies.  


    Under fire for siding with the leader of a hostile nation rather than his own country's intelligence agencies, Trump at first denied any collusion between his campaign the Russians, then championed Putin, and finally, lashed out at national security officials, referring to them as "political hacks."  


    Trump said, "There was no collusion. Everybody knows there was no collusion."  Trump continued, "I think it's a shame that something like that could destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are really important countries." Trump added that he and Putin and he could "have the potential to have a very, very good relationship."  Trump appeared to place more credibility in Putin's denials than his own intelligence leadership, exclaiming angrily, "I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks.  So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them."


    Given this expressed confidence in Putin over United States intelligence and national security veretans, the negative publicity intensified for the president. 


    The condemnation of Trump for siding with Putin was bipartisan.  Of note was a derisive statement by the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, who declared: "There's nothing 'America First' about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community."


    Days later, perhaps in response to the chorus of condemnation, Trump somewhat clarified his comments Putin and the election meddling. He said, "I believe that he [Putin] feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership."  He added, "I believe that President Putin really feels, and feels strongly, that he did not meddle in our election. What he believes is what he believes."


    Note that two former intelligence officials -- former Central Intelligence Agency  director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. -- have suggested that Trump was being "played" by Putin on the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.  They further warned that Trump was likely to be manipulated by foreign leaders who would easily be able to to consider Trump's insecurities and feed his ego to achieve their ends. 


    In an interview on CNN, Brennan said, “By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass." Brennan continued, “I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.” 


    In the same CNN interview, Clapper concurred with Brennan's view, saying, “He seems very susceptible to rolling out the red carpet and honor guards and all the trappings and pomp and circumstance that come with the office, and I think that appeals to him, and I think it plays to his insecurities."


    Brennan also declared without prevarication the reality that Putin and the Russian political establishment was intent on undermining the American democratic structure.  He said, “I don’t know why the ambiguity about this. Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our whole process. And to try paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and, in fact, poses a peril to this country.”


    Of significance was that both Brennan and Clapper were among the three intelligence and national security officials (former FBI director James Comey was the third)  who were referred to as "political hacks" by the president.  


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