In the 96 hours since President Donald Trump sought to blame both sides for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and cast doubt on whether Russia was actually responsible for the meddling at all – reactions from top congressional leaders and top intelligence officials (former and current) have been pouring in.
It is, as you might guess, almost entirely negative and critical of Trump. But whose response was the scariest? – the one that made you say “holy cow” (or something similar)?
With the help of the one and only Brenna Williams, I’ve gathered the major statements on the Trump-Putin summit and ranked them from least scary to most scary.
13. Vice President Mike Pence: “President Donald Trump stands without apology as leader of the free world.”
Not scary at all! Also, not really – at all – what the world saw in the Trump-Putin presser!
12. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “We’re eyes wide open about Russian efforts to undermine western democracy. We’re going to do our level best to stop them, and when we don’t stop them, we will call them out for it. … This administration has been incredibly tough on Russia. We’re proud of that, and I’m confident we’ll have to continue to do so, as there’s still Russian behavior that is inconsistent with a good relationship with our two countries.”
Pompeo spoke to CBN News Thursday about the summit, and despite Trump’s comments, reiterated that the US intelligence community is fully aware of Russia’s meddling. One interesting moment to note in that interview – the CBN questioner asked whether the “media and liberals are a bit out of control on this treason stuff,” and Pompeo responded that he had looked back at various senators’ comments during President Barack Obama’s tenure talking about the need for a good relationship with Russia. “Either they changed their mind or they’ve become pure political hacks,” he said. “I suspect it’s the latter and not the former.”
11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018.”
Sort of milquetoast given that McConnell totally and completely ignores Trump in his statement. Slight bonus points for the “a lot of us fully understand what happened in 2016” shade.
10. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker: “I’ll take a back seat to no one in the United States Senate on challenging what happened at NATO, what happened in Helsinki.”
This statement is more about Corker – and his desire to be seen as a leading Trump critic on foreign policy – than it is about Trump and what he did with Putin. Also, Corker is retiring in 2018 so this is sort of a free shot for the Tennessee senator.
9. House Speaker Paul Ryan: “The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
This is about as strong a statement as you are going to see from Ryan. He makes clear Trump is wrong about the threat posed by Russia and blasts Russia’s “vile attacks on democracy.” That’s serious stuff. Of course, Ryan is retiring at the end of this year and has a whole lot less to lose than the likes of McConnell, who are sticking around for the next two years of Trump.
8. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr: “I need to hear the President, without any hedging, say that he believes that the Russians were and are meddling in our elections. I haven’t heard that yet. You can only run from facts for so long.”
Burr isn’t on the leading edge of Trump Republican critics – a la Corker, Jeff Flake and John McCain – which make his words here all the more meaningful. Remember that Burr’s committee released its report on Russia and the 2016 election earlier this month – concluding that Russia indeed meddled in the election with the intent of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Presumably those are the facts that Burr thinks Trump continues to run from.
7. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Consider the context here: Coats’ boss – aka the President of the United States – had just stood next to Vladimir Putin and said he wasn’t sure whether he believed the Russian president or his own intelligence community when it came to the 2016 election interference. For Coats to issue a statement – without, reportedly, running it by the White House – reiterating the intelligence community’s belief that Russia orchestrated a broad-scale meddling campaign in the 2016 election. That Coats felt the need to do so is, when you think about it, pretty damn scary.
5. (tie) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Does anyone believe he was tougher on Putin in secret? You can’t assume anything but that as weak as he was in public before President Putin, he was even worse in private. Why else did he not want anyone in the room?”
5. (tie) Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Mark Warner: “If the President was willing to dismiss American concerns in public, what in the heck did he say in private?”
Both Schumer and Warner make a similar – and scary – point here: If Trump was willing to do the “both sides do it” dance in regards Russian meddling with the eyes of the world on him, what must have the two men’s private conversation been like? What adds to the scariness factor here is that we will never really know since Trump insisted on a one-on-one with Putin, with only translators in the room. Which means we will never truly know what was said – and what wasn’t. We have to rely on two men who, in their past, have proven to be very unreliable narrators.
4. House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff: “It was a stunning betrayal of the country.”
It tells you how terrifying some of the quotes about summit were that Schiff, a man who has access to lots more intelligence regarding Russia’s involvement in the last election, saying that Trump betrayed the country doesn’t rank any higher.
3. Former CIA Director John Brennan: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Brennan’s tweet became a rallying cry of sorts for Democrats and liberals – and even some disaffected Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the summit. If the former CIA director is saying this, we must be in really deep doo-doo, went the line of thought. And there’s no doubt that a former CIA chief typing out the words “[Trump] is wholly in the pocket of Putin” is scary. But Brennan’s assertion that Trump had committed treason in his Putin presser seemed a stretch – and took some of the sting out of his other comments.
2. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “On Monday, the entire world witnessed President Trump cower in the presence of Putin. President Trump obviously seemed frightened in the presence of Putin. What was he afraid of? What is Putin blackmailing President Trump with? Personally, politically or financially.”
And there it is – the “b” word. Pelosi comes right out and suggests that the president of Russia may well have “Kompromat” on the President of the United States and is hanging it over his head to get Trump to do what Putin wants. Holy moly.
1. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: “But more and more I come to a conclusion after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him.”
What’s scariest about Clapper’s statement is that this is someone who had long been dismissive – or at least very skeptical – of the idea that the Russians might actually have some “Kompromat” on Trump. And his mind is being changed by how he has seen Trump act as president – most notably on Monday in Helsinki. And before Trumpites yell about Clapper being some sort of liberal, let’s remember that he served in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. And, prior to Trump’s presidency, had never engaged in anything close to partisan politics. S-C-A-R-Y.