New York Daily News ERIN DURKIN
Two former top intelligence officials said President Trump is getting “played” by Russian President Vladimir Putin with his denials of interference in the 2016 election.
“I think he's giving Putin a pass. And 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 to try to play upon his insecurities,” former CIA director John Brennan said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The manipulation, he said, is “very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”
On Air Force One Saturday, Trump said he believes Putin is sincere in his denials that Russia meddled with the presidential election. “Every time he sees me, he said, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it,” he said.
In the same remarks, he called Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “political hacks.”
Trump later sought to clarify, saying at a press conference hours later that while he thinks Putin means what he says, he doesn’t necessarily believe him. He said he trusts U.S. intelligence assessments, which found that Russia did interfere.
Clapper, appearing on CNN with Brennan Sunday, agreed that the President is getting played by the Russian leader.
“Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our whole process. And to try to paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding and, in fact, poses a peril to this country,” he said.
“I do think both the Chinese and Russians think they can play him.”
Brennan said he wasn’t bothered by Trump’s insult. “Considering the source of the criticism, I consider that criticism a badge of honor,” he said.
“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,” he said. “It's either naivete, ignorance or fear.”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, appearing later on the same show, slammed the former intelligence leaders.
“Those were the most ridiculous statements. President Trump is not getting played by anybody,” he said.
He suggested downplaying the Russian misdeeds was a tactic meant to encourage Russian cooperation in North Korea and Syria. “Those are areas we need to work together with Russia and get them on board with our strategy,” he said.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, stressed that the President does believe a January 2017 intelligence assessment that concluded Russia had interfered with the vote, though he downplayed the Russian actions as merely “buying Facebook ads” and said the election outcome was not affected.
Intelligence agencies found Russia was behind hacking of Democratic officials’ e-mails, as well as creating fake social media accounts posing as Americans commenting on the election.
“The President does not overlook that. He signed the proclamation that said that there was meddling. We’re not denying that or saying it’s not important,” Short said. “There is zero evidence of any ballot being impacted by Russian interference.”