- Former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper pushed back against President Donald Trump’s stance on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- Brennan fired back at the president’s claims that he, Clapper, and former FBI director James Comey were “political hacks.”
- Brennan said that Trump was trying to “delegitimize” the US intelligence community and that, considering Trump was the source of the criticism, he saw it as a “badge of honour.”
Former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper fired back at President Donald Trump on Sunday, after Trump said Saturday that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election, contrary to the US intelligence community’s assessment.
Brennan told CNN host Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that US intelligence agencies — particularly the CIA, NSA, and FBI, which are responsible for counterintelligence and analysing Russia’s threat — have seen clear evidence that Russia meddled in the election.
“It’s puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin,” Brennan said.
Trump told reporters on Saturday, following his meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, that he believed Putin meant it when he said Russia did not interfere in the 2016 race.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said, referring to Putin. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
He added that whenever they had met, Putin denied ordering Russia’s election meddling and he “really believed” that Putin meant it.
Putin has frequently praised Trump and Brennan appeared to allude to that Sunday, when he told Tapper that Trump “can be played” by anyone willing to cater to his ego.
Trump also said that he hoped to cooperate with Russia on hot button issues like the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the looming threat of a nuclear-capable North Korea.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Tapper that it was “naive” for Trump to think Russia could be of help to the US on any of those issues.
“The likelihood that the Russians are going to pursue like interests with us is slim and none,” Clapper said. “And I think it’s very naive and perilous to this country to make an assumption that Russia is going to behave with the best interests of the world or the US in mind.”
Asked to elaborate on what threat Russia poses to the US, Clapper said that new evidence that’s come out since the intelligence community first published its findings in January “further reinforce the depth and magnitude and scope and aggressiveness of Russian interference,” including “their very astute use of social media.”
Clapper was likely referring to reports over the last two months revealing Russia’s extensive use of Facebook and Twitter to create fake accounts, buy ads, spread junk news, and organise divisive rallies across the country in an effort to sow discord leading up to last year’s election.
Facebook and Twitter have since acknowledged that Russian “trolls” used their platforms to spread disinformation, and both companies said they’re working to address the issue. They have also testified before the congressional intelligence committees.
Clapper added on Sunday that there should be no illusions or ambiguity about the fact that Russia does not “harbour good intentions towards the United States.”
“And our president fosters that ambiguity,” he said.
Trump has long cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings on Russia, and he has pushed back forcefully on its conclusion that the Kremlin mounted the effort specifically to help Trump’s campaign and hurt that of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s campaign is currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking at whether any members of the campaign, including the president himself, colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favour.
Brennan also fired back on Sunday against Trump’s criticisms of him, Clapper, and former FBI director James Comey as “political hacks.” Trump called Comey a “liar” and a “leaker” and suggested Putin’s credibility was stronger than theirs.
Brennan told Tapper that Trump “was referring to us as political hacks because he was trying to delegitimize the intelligence community’s assessment.”
He added that he felt “honored” to be associated with Clapper and Comey, and “considering the source of the criticism, I consider that criticism a badge of honour.”
He also slammed Trump for attacking Clapper, who served in the military for 35 years, on Veteran’s Day. Clapper “responded to the call of his country to go to Vietnam, flew in over 70 combat support missions over Vietnam, and like Sen. [John] McCain, really did put his life at risk because of this country’s national security,” Brennan said.
“And to impugn the character of somebody like Jim Clapper on Veteran’s Day, who has dedicated so much of his life to this country, I just find that outrageous,” he added. “It’s something that I think Mr. Trump should be ashamed of, but it doesn’t seem as though anything he does, he feels any shame whatsoever.”
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