Between the Lines: Who to believe--Putin or American intelligence?
On his recent Asian tour, President Trump met with Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Once again Putin, a former KGB officer during the Soviet era, declared that Russia did not interfere with the 2016 election — claim that has been refuted by the U.S. intelligence community, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Office of National Intelligence.
Trump has been reluctant to take a strong stance on the issue, perhaps worried that acknowledging interference would delegitimize his election. However, Trump reached a new low last week in his response to Putin’s most recent denial of interference. "Every time [Putin] sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump said. "And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."
Such a statement is remarkable as it stands in stark contrast to the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community. National Intelligence director Dan Coats confirmed that Russians “are trying to undermine Western democracy.”
Last summer, CIA director Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman and ardent Trump supporter during the 2016 election, said, “I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community.”
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, mirrored the statements of Pompeo and Coats during his tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security.
In September, a spokesman for Facebook confirmed that the company had sold up to $100,000 in political ads to fake accounts opened by Russian agents. Facebook has since agreed to turn over evidence of these accounts to congressional investigators.
Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and their disdain for Western Democracy is nothing new. Neither is it a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats agree that Russian interference occurred and that it is a future threat to the U.S. and other Western democracies.
Trump’s willingness to accept Putin’s claim as true when his intelligence officers are reporting the exact opposite is baffling. For someone who adamantly denies any collusion between his campaign and the Russians, it is awfully suspicious that Trump would believe Putin when his agencies have been very clear about Russian meddling.
After Trump came under heavy criticism for his submissive response to Putin’s denials, he attempted to clarify his position by saying, “As to whether I believe it, I'm with our agencies," Trump said, "As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies."
A few other notable figures that acknowledge Russian interference are Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Senate Intelligence Committee comprised of Republicans and Democrats, former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, President Barack Obama, Sen. (and war hero) John McCain, and my favorite —Donald Trump, who in a June 23 tweet charged that then President Barack Obama knew about Russian meddling in the election and did nothing.
Trump’s inability to communicate a clear position on Russian meddling defies explanation. At this point, what is the takeaway?
Maybe Trump trusts Putin, or maybe he doesn’t, or maybe he didn’t trust the intelligence assessment during Obama’s presidency but now he does, or maybe he’s afraid to call out Putin, or maybe ... .
Until we get a clear answer from our president, all we have to go on are maybes. In the words of Trump — SAD!