Former U.S. intelligence officials, recently criticized by President Donald Trump as “political hacks,” voiced concern Sunday that Russian leader Vladimir Putin sees Trump as ripe to “be played” by foreign powers appealing to his ego.
Trump administration officials countered by maintaining that the president’s warmer relations toward Russia are essential in U.S. efforts to quash North Korean nuclear ambitions.
“It’s either naiveté, ignorance or fear,” former CIA director John Brennan told CNN’s “State of the Union” of Trump’s statement that Putin feels insulted by questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“And 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 to try to play upon his insecurities,” Brennan said.
Trump is nearing the end of a 13-day trip to Asia during which he and Putin met on the sidelines of an economic conference in Vietnam.
The face-to-face meeting generated new criticism of Trump’s reluctance to rebuff Putin, though building an alliance against Pyongyang has been an overall mission of the trip.
Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke on the heels of remarks by Trump that he believes Putin believes it when the Russian president says Moscow didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.
Trump said in Hanoi, Vietnam: “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies. ... And, frankly, Russia and China in particular can help us with the North Korea problem, which is one of our truly great problems.”
Stateside, his top aides echoed the sentiment that Trump is focused on a broader strategy agenda with Russia.
“President Trump is not getting played by anybody,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNN. “President Trump was focused on some very important issues, which are North Korea and Syria. And those are areas that we need to work together with Russia.”
On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Trump does believe the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin meddled.
But Short clarified: “He believes that after a year of investigations [and spending] of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, there is zero evidence of any ballot being impacted by Russian interference.”
Short continued: “And nuclear weapons in North Korea is a greater threat than Russia buying Facebook ads in America.”
Clapper said he does not believe Moscow will work for U.S. interests. “The Russians do not harbor good intentions toward the United States, and there shouldn’t be any illusions or any ambiguity about that,” he told CNN. “And our president, the president fosters that ambiguity.”
Mnuchin and Short appeared on Sunday TV talk shows to advance the GOP tax overhaul plan. Trump wants the House legislation passed this week, before the Thanksgiving break.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) was reminded on “Fox News Sunday” that about two dozen GOP House members have vowed to vote down any legislation that axes both the state and local tax deductions. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) are among them.
Brady said he can guarantee the lawmakers from high-taxed states that, as host Chris Wallace put it, “the final bill they vote will not include the total elimination in the Senate plan.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Sunday for the total restoration of SALT deductions.
“The House’s so-called ‘compromise’ would be saying to the middle class we’ll only chop off four of your fingers instead of all five,” he said in a statement.