Ex-of­fi­cials blast Trump over Rus­sia com­ments

Pres­i­dent is be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by Putin, they con­tend.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura King Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Two for­mer WASH­ING­TON — se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials Sun­day of­fered an ex­tra­or­di­nary cri­tique of Pres­i­dent Trump’s mode of deal­ing with for­eign lead­ers, por­tray­ing the pres­i­dent as cowed by Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin and too sus­cep­ti­ble to flat­tery by ri­vals likely seek­ing to ma­nip­u­late him.

The crit­i­cism by for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan and for­mer di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence James Clap­per fol­lowed months of ten­sion be­tween the White House and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity over the pres­i­dent’s re­luc­tance to pub­licly ac­cept in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that Rus­sia sought to sway the 2016 elec­tion in his fa­vor.

Over the week­end, Trump im­plied that he took Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at his word that Rus­sia had not acted to in­flu­ence the U.S. elec­tion. Trump also said that rais­ing the is­sue was in­sult­ing to Putin.

On Sun­day, in Hanoi, Trump par­tially walked back those re­marks. “I’m with our agen­cies, es­pe­cially as cur­rently con­sti­tuted” in their assess­ment — im­ply­ing he still mis­trusted for­mer in­tel­li­gence chiefs who served in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. A day ear­lier, he de­scribed the for­mer direc­tors of ma­jor in­tel­li­gence agen­cies as “po­lit­i­cal hacks.”

Bren­nan, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the pres­i­dent’s stance, even some­what soft­ened, was in­com­pat­i­ble with es­tab­lished facts.

“It’s very clear that the Rus­sians in­ter­fered in the elec­tion, and it’s still puz­zling as to why Mr. Trump does not ac­knowl­edge that and em­brace it and also push back hard against Mr. Putin,” Bren­nan said.

Trump, he said, should state “very clearly and strongly that this is a na­tional se­cu­rity prob­lem, and to say to Mr. Putin, ‘We know you did it, you have to stop it, be­cause there are go­ing to be con­se­quences if you don’t.’”

Bren­nan was un­usu­ally ex­plicit in sug­gest­ing that the Rus­sian leader had some sort of hold over Trump, a the­ory of­ten voiced by Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, but one that in­tel­li­gence vet­er­ans gen­er­ally avoid.

“I think Mr. Trump is, for what­ever rea­son, ei­ther in­tim­i­dated by Mr. Putin or afraid of what he can do, or what might come out as a re­sult of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Bren­nan said, ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and sev­eral sep­a­rate con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Char­ac­ter­iz­ing Trump’s deal­ings with Rus­sia as col­ored by “naivete, ig­no­rance or fear,” Bren­nan said the tenor of Trump’s en­coun­ters with Putin — the lat­est of which came dur­ing his Asia trip — fu­eled the be­lief, es­pe­cially among au­thor­i­tar­ian or ad­ver­sar­ial lead­ers, that it was easy to take ad­van­tage of the U.S. pres­i­dent.

“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,” Bren­nan said.

Clap­per, ap­pear­ing with Bren­nan on CNN, said Trump’s re­luc­tance to fully ac­knowl­edge Krem­lin in­ter­fer­ence was both puz­zling and dan­ger­ous.

“I don’t know why the am­bi­gu­ity about this, be­cause the threat posed by Rus­sia is man­i­fest, and ob­vi­ously has been for a long time,” he said. “To try to paint it in any other way is, I think, as­tound­ing, and in fact poses a peril to this coun­try.

Clap­per con­curred with Bren­nan’s view that Trump “seems very sus­cep­ti­ble to rolling out the red car­pet and honor guards and all the trap­pings and pomp and cir­cum­stance” af­forded by over­seas vis­its.

“I think that ap­peals to him, and I think it plays to his in­se­cu­ri­ties,” Clap­per said.

The for­mer in­tel­li­gence chiefs’ com­ments drew a sharp re­sponse from Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin, also on CNN. He said Trump was “not get­ting played by any­body” and that it was “ridicu­lous” to sug­gest he was be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by Putin or any­one else.

Some Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have also been crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent on the Rus­sia is­sue, di­rectly or in­di­rectly. A day af­ter a harsh re­sponse to Trump’s ini­tial re­marks by Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the for­mer chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, Mike Rogers, said on Twit­ter Sun­day that the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity had con­cluded that Rus­sia in­ter­fered in last year’s vote and “we should ex­pect them to at­tempt to do so again.”

AN­DREW HARNIK / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shakes hands with Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte at an ASEAN Sum­mit din­ner in Manila, Philip­pines, on Sun­day. Trump ar­rived there from Viet­nam, and is con­clud­ing a five-coun­try trip through Asia.

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