President Donald Trump’s bizarre weekend highlights just how deeply the Kremlin has burrowed into Western politics, nowhere more than the United States. Trump blew apart his Asian trip by insisting that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had nothing to do with meddling in our election last year—because the Kremlin boss says so.
In Vietnam on Saturday, Trump announced that he spoke to Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, and the Russian president “said he absolutely did not meddle in our election.” He added, “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump then stated that the Kremlin boss “is very insulted by” reports that Russia interfered in our 2016 election, and this is “not a good thing for our country.” Adding fuel to the fire he set, Trump dismissed allegations of Russian meddling as “this artificial Democratic hit job,” then castigated the leadership of the Intelligence Community he inherited on his inauguration in January as dishonest “political hacks.”
Trump has never accepted the IC assessment that Russian spies interfered in our election last year, but even for this president, Saturday’s outburst was extraordinary. It’s not every day that the American president publicly sides with a foreign leader against his own intelligence bosses—especially when that leader is the very one whom American spies assess meddled to elect this president. That Trump chose to do this on Veterans Day, on foreign soil, did not go unnoticed by many with displeasure.
Trump’s controversial words blew up in his face immediately. Across the political spectrum, his public siding with Putin while undermining the investigation into his Moscow links was met with howls of outrage, while many are now wondering what exactly Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin is—as well they should.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo quickly entered the fray, issuing a terse statement: “The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections… The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.” Pompeo is viewed by many at Langley and across the IC as uncomfortably close to the president, but Trump’s bizarre siding with Putin on such a major issue was something the CIA director could not countenance.
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