Two former top intelligence officials warned on Sunday that they think President Donald Trump’s efforts to downplay Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election is putting the country at risk. “The threat posed by Russia … is manifest and obvious,” Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said. “To try to paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and in fact, poses a peril to this country.”
Former CIA director John Brennan spoke on CNN’s State of the Union alongside Clapper and said Trump is demonstrating to world leaders that he can be “played” with a little ego stroking. “By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” Brennan said. “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 try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.” Clapper agreed that Trump “seems very susceptible to rolling out the red carpet and honor guards and all the trappings and pomp and circumstance that come with the office, and I think that appeals to him, and I think it plays to his insecurities.” As a result of this dynamic, “both the Chinese and Russians think they can play him,” he added.
In addition to Putin’s use of flattery to get his way with Trump, Brennan also said that Trump “for whatever reason” is “either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations.” And his attitude isn’t just “worrisome” for the United Stats, it also sends “a very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes as well.”
Appearing on the same CNN show, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin qualified their concerns as “the most ridiculous statements,” assuring that “President Trump is not getting played by anybody.” The key, he said, is that “the country is ready to move on off of this and focus on important issues.”
On Saturday, Trump appeared to say he believed Putin’s denial of Russian interference in U.S. elections. That immediately led people to say the commander in chief was believing a foreign leader over his own intelligence agencies. The president seems to have recognized the controversy he caused with his statement and walked it back a bit Sunday, assuring that all he meant was that Putin was being sincere in the denials that Kremlin tried to sway the election. “I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said. “As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership.”
In a tweet, Trump also suggested he feels he has far more important things to discuss with Russian leaders than election meddling. “When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he wrote. “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”