Sen. Rand Paul said on Monday that the conversation around Russian interference in the 2016 US election and President Donald Trump’s break with the intelligence community on the issue was misdirected and animated by anti-Trump animus.
“Any country that can spy does, and any country that can meddle in foreign elections does,” the Kentucky Republican said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
He continued, “All countries are doing this, but we’ve elevated this to a higher degree, and we’ve made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election, and it’s all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this.”
Paul distinguished himself from many other voices in Washington, including members of his own party, in declining to criticize comments Trump had made earlier Monday alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the interview with CNN, Paul stressed his support for “engagement with our adversaries,” such as Russia.
When presented with the uniformity of opinion across US intelligence and law enforcement communities regarding Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, Paul said the focus should not be on Trump, but on election security.
“I don’t disagree with anything that was said there,” Paul said in response to a statement Monday from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “What I would say is that instead of making this about, everything is about Trump and accusing Trump of collusion with the Russians and all this craziness that’s not true, we should try to protect the integrity of our elections.”
And asked if he trusted the US intelligence community over Putin, Paul initially declined to respond, instead lamenting the power of the intelligence community and calling for increased checks on its authority.
“Should that power be unchecked, or should you have a judicial system that says you know what, you want to get information, you have to have warrants and you have to have checks and balances on intelligence?” Paul said.
He went on to say in the interview that he was “not discounting the allegations that the Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton’s emails.”
The Justice Department announced indictments against a dozen Russians on Friday, accusing them of hacks targeting the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.