foreign policy

Former Intel Chiefs: Trump Is Being Manipulated by Putin, Others

Former CIA director John Brennan (L) and former Director of the Office of National Intelligence James Clapper (R) appearing on CNN on Sunday. Photo: Screencap/CNN

Former CIA director John Brennan and former National Intelligence director James Clapper said on Sunday that President Trump is likely being manipulated by Russian president Vladimir Putin and other foreign governments. The two Obama administration officials appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to respond to Trump’s comments over the weekend indicating that he still doubted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election.

Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday, Trump suggested that he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials on the matter. He also denigrated Clapper, Brennan, and former FBI director James Comey as “political hacks” in what appeared to be an attempt to discredit their agencies’ conclusions regarding election-meddling. Trump later tried to distance himself from his own comments on Sunday, insisting he did trust U.S. intelligence agencies now that they were being run by members of his administration.

But to Clapper and Brennan, Trump’s comments, which echoed the framing Putin has used on the subject, indicated that the president was just being manipulated. Brennan pointed out that Trump was clearly trying to “delegitimize” the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment, and the former CIA chief was also worried about Trump’s concern that Putin felt insulted by the accusations:

I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered. […] And 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 [into possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign]. 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 naiveté, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-à-vis the Russians.

Clapper said that Trump’s bullish attitude about working with Putin was naive or worse, since “the likelihood that the Russians are going to pursue like interests with us is slim and none.” He added that it’s “perilous to this country to make an assumption that Russia is going to behave with the best interests of the world or certainly the United States in mind. They’re not.”

And while Brennan agreed that relations between the U.S. and Russia need to improve, he said Trump was giving Putin “a pass” by not tackling the issue with the Russian leader and making sure he knows that Trump knows what really happened. Instead, according to Brennan, the president’s weak response only proves that he “can be played by foreign leaders” who “appeal to his ego and to try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national-security standpoint.”

In Clapper’s mind, Trump “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 that could be used against him by foreign powers.

“I think both the Chinese and Russians think they can play him,” he said.

Former Intel Chiefs: Trump Is Being Manipulated by Putin