President Donald Trump just sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the US intelligence community. That’s because in one of their conversations during an international summit in Vietnam, Putin denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election — and Trump bought it.
“He said he didn't meddle, he said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One Saturday. “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.”
It’s remarkable enough that Trump openly admitted he just believed whatever Putin told him. It’s even more startling when you realize that in January, the FBI, CIA, and NSA clearly assessed that Russia did interfere in the election — and that Putin was behind it. Here’s part of that conclusion:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
Trump also took the chance to go after former prominent intelligence and law enforcement officials who disagree with his Russia views.
"I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks," Trump said. "So you look at it, I mean, you have [former CIA Director John] Brennan, you have [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, and you have [former FBI Director Jim] 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."
This isn’t the first time Trump accepted Putin’s account about election interference. On July 7, the two men had a one-on-one meeting at the G20, a gathering of the world’s top 20 economies. There, Putin also denied Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election, and Trump reportedly took it at face value.
Trump and Putin weren’t scheduled to meet during the forum, but it was always possible that they would run into each other. They shook hands at a dinner for leaders on Friday and stood next to each other during a leaders’ photo on Saturday.
Trump added that he’d now rather discuss issues like Syria and Ukraine with Putin, noting that every time he brings up the Russia issue, Putin is unhappy. “I think he is very insulted by it,” he said.
After Trump’s comments, others might feel insulted too — especially members of the US intelligence community.
Trump undercuts the US intelligence community again
Trump has, at best, a complicated relationship with America’s spies.
He frequently attacked the intelligence community’s skills and integrity during both the campaign and the early months of his presidency. He dismisses any investigation into Russia’s meddling as a “hoax.” He has repeatedly mocked American intelligence officers for the mistaken conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a rationale that paved the way for the 2003 invasion.
Trump has likened American spies to Nazis because he believed they leaked information about him. And he spent part of his first full day in office at a memorial for the CIA’s fallen heroes attacking the media and lying about the size of his crowd at his inauguration.
However, Trump does like CIA Director Mike Pompeo — but that could be because Pompeo has no problem distorting Russia-related intelligence in Trump’s favor, even though the CIA told me earlier this week that Pompeo stands by the January assessment. Pompeo is reportedly in consideration to become the next secretary of state.
So Trump doesn’t seem to trust the intelligence community. That’s his choice — but it’s concerning that he’ll trust Putin instead.