After Trump returned from the NATO conference and Helsinki summit — and tweeted what a great success it was — reality came in the form of Republican leadership telling the president that the press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin was a disaster and that he needs to clean it up.
Here’s what Trump said immediately after his meeting with Putin regarding Russia’s interference in our 2016 election:
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be…”
Here’s how Trump tired to clean it up:
“…let me be totally clear in saying that, and I have said this many times, I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people, also. There are lots of people out there.”
“…other people… lots of people out there”?
This man is pathologically incapable of making anything sound honest, clear or unequivocal, but here’s the part I “wouldn’t” have believed:
“The sentence should have been,” Trump continued, ” ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ … I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’ ” [emphasis added].
That may be what Trump is selling now, but that’s not what he said during the press conference with Putin, and it’s not what most of Congress is buying. How do we know? At that press conference, Trump clearly said:
“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia…. “but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
So, where is the clarification in those sentences, Mr. President? Where is the wrong word or misunderstanding?
For all of Trump’s tough talk, the only individual who actually held Putin’s feet to the fire was Chris Wallace. The Fox News anchor — son of CBS legendary broadcaster Mike Wallace — tried to hand Putin a copy of the indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, which offers names and details on how 12 Russian intelligence officers were involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee but the Russian president refused the copy.
To say that Trump’s Helsinki remarks were a slap in the face to U.S. intelligence rank and file, is putting it mildly. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, an intelligence analyst for CBS News, was interviewed on CBS This Morning. Morell’s assessment of Trump’s comments: senior intelligence officials should consider resigning.
“ ‘I do think that senior officials in the intelligence community need to ask themselves whether they can continue to serve this president and represent the men and women of the intelligence community in a way that is positive,’ Morell said. ‘I’m deeply concerned about that.’
“ ‘You’ll remember in the early days, the relationship was bad, the morale was bad. The president called his intelligence community Nazis,’ Morell said. ‘People were considering resigning. But over time, that relationship got better, in large part because the intelligence community got access to the Oval Office on almost a daily basis.’
“ ‘Yesterday was a blow to that morale,’ Morell said. ‘It was a blow to that relationship.’ ”
While I have great respect for Morell, I think it would be a mistake for any head of any of the intelligence agencies to resign in protest for one simple reason: whomever Trump appoints in their place could be worse!
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, current CIA Director Gina Haspel, newly announced NSA Director General Paul Nakasone, Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart, as well as the heads of the other agencies that make up the intelligence community, are proving to be honest brokers of intelligence and should remain in place, continue to report the facts to the president and, if necessary, report directly to Congress and the American public.
Can we ever expect Trump to offer unequivocal acknowledgment of the dedicated and non-partisan work of the intelligence community, or tell the truth to the American people about his affinity for Putin and connection to Russia?
I wouldn’t count on it.