Richard Clarke: Why is there a Russian under every rock?

Clarke on Russia _00011002
Clarke on Russia _00011002

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    Clarke on Putin, hack, possible "backchannel"

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Clarke on Putin, hack, possible "backchannel" 06:17

Story highlights

  • Richard Clarke is a counter-terrorism expert who served US Presidents from 1992 to 2003
  • The only reason to hide activity from US intel agencies is because it's criminal, he said

(CNN)If President Donald Trump's son-in-law and his ex-national security adviser sought to set up a back channel with the Kremlin, the move would "(reek) of espionage and may even be illegal," a top counter-terrorism expert told CNN's Michael Smerconish on Saturday.

"If Michael Flynn were, in fact, there ... he certainly knew what he was doing," Richard Clarke said of claims the President's former national security adviser worked with son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to the United States to establish a secret line of communication.
Flynn "had spent his career in the intelligence community; he ran an intelligence agency," said Clarke, who served as a security and counter-terrorism official under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "There's no excuse for him to not know where espionage starts and diplomacy ends."
    If the meeting happened, it also showed "monumental distrust" between the incoming administration and the intelligence community, Smerconish said.
    "Well, it suggests they were trying to do something illegal," Clarke replied.
    "The only reason to distrust or want to hide something from the intelligence community is your fear that the intelligence community will see something which is illegal, and in that case, they're required, if they see an American breaking the law, to report that to the FBI," he said. "So there may be a charitable explanation for this, but I tried, and I really can't come with up with one."
    Trump also would certainly have known about any meetings that may have occurred between his team and the Russians, Clarke said.
    "The Donald Trump administration that we have seen so far is one in which he directs the activities," Clarke said. "He's the one who's making the decisions. I can't imagine that the son-in-law would feel free to freelance without Trump knowing what he was doing."
    As for what might have motivated Kushner and Flynn to propose a Kremlin back channel, Clarke admitted he was stumped -- and cynical.
    "If this isn't ignorance, and it certainly doesn't look like just ignorance, why are they doing it? Why is there a Russian under every rock? Why is there a Russian involved in everything this administration has done and everything involved in the campaign?" he asked.
    "It begs the question: What's the quid pro quo?" Clarke said. "Who is getting what out of this?"