Last week, President Trump said it is just blather — not a fact — that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted him to win the presidency.
“So, what I keep hearing…that he would have rather had Trump [win], I think ‘Probably not,’” the president said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Who is annoying the president with evidence that the Russians spread fake news and hacked email accounts to turn voters against his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton?
The sources are intelligence agents of the United States — the men and women who are the president’s frontline for information on threats to the U.S. from terrorists and hostile nations.
Since the end of World War Two, presidents of both parties have given special consideration to the people who put their lives on the line to provide sensitive, often secret information to the president and Congress. Historically, presidents defend intelligence agents, even when they use excessive tactics to get facts.
Trump does not see it that way. In his first six months in office, he has displayed unprecedented presidential disdain for the intelligence community.
Just before his inaugural, he tweeted that U.S. intelligence agencies were engaged in tactics similar to those of “Nazi Germany.” He accused them of being behind leaks to reporters that led to news stories about Russia’s efforts to help his campaign.
Trump’s extreme attacks on intelligence officials are in line with his outbursts against the media. In both instances, he is intent on diminishing claims that his election victory is not legitimate because Russia, a hostile foreign power, wanted him in office to advance its own agenda — specifically ending economic sanctions.
But when it comes to publicly trashing the people working at the CIA, the FBI and the NSA, Trump is making history. No president has attacked the entire intelligence community to serve his own political interests.
Two weeks ago, the president reopened old wounds when he reminded reporters at a press conference in Poland that America’s best intelligence agencies failed when they said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Why did he bring that up? Once again, his goal was to diminish the value of their finding that Russia wanted him to win the 2016 election.
“Well, I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people and other countries,” the president said. “It could have been a lot of people interfered.” He has previously said China or a fat man on a basement bed could have had a hand in meddling in the election.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), in a CNN interview after the president skewered the intelligence community at the Poland news conference, said flatly, “the president is not telling the truth when he says no one really knows if Russia engaged in the cyberattack last year. Russia did it. There is no rational person who looked at evidence and concluded otherwise.”
The president continued his attack on intelligence agencies’ findings last week even after the disclosure that his son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer — having being told in an email message that she had information damaging to Clinton that came from the Russian government.
Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said Trump Jr.’s emails were “game-changing”
"The overall American intelligence community, with a high confidence in judgment, [says] the Russians interfered in the American election," Hayden said in a television interview.
A Suffolk University/USA Today poll taken in late June — before these emails were revealed — found that 73 percent of voters agree Russia’s meddling in our election was either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” issue (55 and 18 percent, respectively).
That public perception is rooted in the January report from the office of the Director of National Intelligence — based on reporting done by the CIA, FBI and NSA — that concluded with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election…to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
And despite Trump’s denials, the intelligence report added that Putin had a “clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Last week, McClatchy’s Washington bureau reported Congressional committees as well as the FBI are looking at whether the Trump campaign “helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks,” on the Clinton campaign.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy that he is probing how the Russians knew the best timing and best targets for placing damaging stories, many fake, about Clinton on social media for voters in key states.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, similarly has told reporters that Russians somehow knew “how to target states and levels of voters,” including women and African Americans, in states that proved decisive to the outcome of the election, such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
Trump calls these probes “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in U.S. history.”
The president’s distaste for the independence of the intelligence community’s work was evident in his May dismissal of James Comey as FBI director. Trump derided Comey as “crazy” and a “real nut job,” to top Russian government officials during a later meeting in the Oval Office.
A friend recently called to ask what I made of a 3 a.m. tweet from Eric Holder. The former Attorney General advised “the career men and women” at the Justice Department and FBI that their “actions and integrity will be unfairly questioned — be prepared, be strong. Duty. Honor. Country.”
It is the right response — the only response — to attacks on the intelligence community from the president.