the national interest

Putin Told Trump North Korea Couldn’t Launch Missiles, and He Believed It

Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki, 2018. Photo: Yari Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

In July, 2017, North Korea test fired an intercontinental ballistic missile. President Trump initially dismissed intelligence reports of the launch as a “hoax,” according to former FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Trump often refuses to accept intelligence findings, but in this case, his reasons were … interesting.

“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles,” McCabe writes. “He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

Trump has met repeatedly with Putin in unusually secretive circumstances, barring other American officials from attending and leaving no recording of the discussion. Putin has apparently influenced Trump’s thinking on North Korea in other ways. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, as an aside within a somewhat light story about how to persuade Trump, that Trump wanted to halt joint military exercises with South Korea because Putin had suggested it.

Trump is clearly smitten with using North Korea as evidence of his deal-making prowess, frequently boasting that he alone prevented nuclear war and claiming in the face of all evidence that he has eliminated North Korea’s nuclear threat. Apparently, in addition to his own ego, Trump’s almost comically credulous stance is also a reflection of Russian influence.

Putin Told Trump North Korea Couldn’t Launch Missiles