President Donald Trump again suggested he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he claims the Russian government did not meddle in the 2016 election, despite the steadfast assessment of Trump's own intelligence agencies.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One after meeting with Putin during Trump's Asia trip, the president called the former intelligence agency heads responsible for the assessment "political hacks."
"And then you hear it's 17 agencies [that published the intelligence assessment]. Well, it's three. And one is [former CIA Director John] Brennan and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They're political hacks," Trump said, according to a transcript posted on Politico. "So you look at it -- I mean, you have Brennan, you have [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, and you have [former FBI Director James] Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he's proven to be a leaker. So you look at that, and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that. Now, you're not going to get into an argument. You're going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine."
(The intelligence assessment to which Trump was referring, released publicly two weeks before Trump took office in January, includes input from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and was published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [PDF]. As far as being "political hacks," here are the biographies for Brennan, Clapper and Comey.)
Trump also said Putin is "insulted" over allegations of election meddling, and when asked directly if Trump believes Putin's claims, Trump said, "Well, look, I can't stand there and argue with him. I'd rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I'd rather have him -- you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not -- because that whole thing was set up by the Democrats."
Despite Trump laying the assessment at the feet of intelligence directors under the previous administration, the current director of the CIA, Mike Pomeo, the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly -- all of whom were appointed by Trump -- have said they stand by the assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Several private U.S.-based cybersecurity firms also fingered Russian hacking groups in public findings.
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