Trump doubles down on meetings with despots — and it's rocking the US government to its core

  • President Donald Trump has said he is considering second meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • But meetings with those leaders so far have proved damaging to the US government.
  • Trump appeared to take Russia’s word over that of his own security services regarding Russian election meddling.
  • Trump has also said he believes North Korea is denuclearizing – because Kim told him so.
  • US intelligence reports paint a different picture.
  • Trump’s meetings with Putin and Kim were panned by critics including some Republicans and have driven some members of the intelligence community to the brink of resignation.
  • Many former top intelligence officials who can’t see why Trump would seem to side so heavily against the US now openly ponder whether Trump is a “controlled spy.”

President Donald Trump has said he is considering more meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite meager results and a furious backlash from recent summits between him and the two men.

Neither his June summit with Kim nor his one-on-one meeting on Monday with Putin produced known tangible gains for the US public, something critics have pointed out.

Trump’s summit this week with Putin in Finland was nearly universally panned even by Republicans after he appeared to take Russia’s word over that of his own intelligence services on whether the Kremlin hacked Democratic National Committee servers to meddle in the 2016 US election.

“My people came to me … They said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said Monday at a joint press conference with Putin after the two met in private. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.”

“I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump added. The next day he tried to walk that comment back, saying he actually meant to say he didn’t see any reason it “wouldn’t” be Russia.

Similarly, Trump accepted a vague, nonbinding agreement from Kim to denuclearize, which again pinned his confidence on his personal trust in the North Korean leader.

While Trump has talked up the prospect of improved relations with North Korea and Russia – both nuclear-armed states with grudges against the US – his efforts have yet to yield major results.

As one of the few explicit promises Kim made in a joint statement with Trump after the two met in June, the North Korean leader agreed to an “immediate” repatriation of the remains of US troops killed in the Korean War.

A month later, no such repatriation has taken place, and the North Koreans have skipped meetings to set up what could be a relatively straightforward process.

Trump has continued to take Kim’s word that North Korea is denuclearizing, but US intelligence services have found evidence that the country’s nuclear-weapons programs have actually advanced since the talks.

North Korea, thereby, has succeeded in the same way Russia has, by pitting Trump against his own intelligence services.

What’s the US public getting out of this?

Trump kim singaporeGettyPresident Donald Trump says North Korea’s nuclear threat is over. Why?

And while Trump may have succeeded in warming relations on two fronts, he is yet to produce any tangible results for Americans. Neither Putin nor Kim has agreed to take any actions in the US’s security interests.

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, said on Twitter that “‘good’ relations with Russia is not a goal of U.S. foreign policy, but only a means to other ends.”

What those other ends are for Trump, who did not strongly condemn any Russian behaviour or suggest any major changes, remains unclear.

Trump’s dislike of the ‘deep state’ goes both ways

Christopher WrayChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesFBI Director Christopher Wray at a Senate hearing in May.

Trump campaigned on “draining the swamp” of anonymous bureaucrats and frequently targets what he calls a “deep state” of faceless intelligence officials acting as political operatives – and the animosity appears mutual.

After Trump’s apparent siding with Putin in questions of Russian election meddling, both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats hinted that they may resign.

Coats quickly made public his misalignment with Trump on Russia and said he’d have handled things differently. Trump reportedly then floated the idea of firing Coats.

Trump has also consistently attacked the FBI’s investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

His reluctance to criticise Russia or Putin has prompted experts who formerly held top posts within the intelligence community to begin forming a consensus view that Russia has some leverage over Trump, with some rationalizing his behaviour as that of a “controlled spy.”

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