American Intelligence Is Sounding the Alarm—but Trump Isn’t Listening

Jul 19, 2018, 12:43 PM

Monday’s summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin set a new low for American national security. Standing side-by-side with the Russian autocrat, Trump once again accepted Putin’s phony denials about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” said the American president, flatly contradicting overwhelming evidence and the judgment of his own American intelligence agencies as well as the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump’s comments left many, even within his own administration, slack-jawed. An ailing Senator John McCain called it, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

One day later, Trump said that he misspoke and that really, truly, deep down and with a pinky swear, he believes the U.S. intelligence community. Uh huh. Helsinki marks the fifth time since taking the oath of office that the president has said, out loud, that he doubted U.S. intelligence about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. That’s on top of the eight other times he’s cast doubt on Russia’s election interference before he was sworn in – including a Time interview on November 28, 2016, in which he said, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point … It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

There’s a phrase for when someone “misspeaks” so often about the same sore subject. It’s called “what he actually believes.”

It’s hard to wrap our heads around just how dangerous Trump’s refusal to believe the truth about Russia’s information warfare campaign is. For two years now, American intelligence agencies have been warning about Russia’s unprecedented efforts to sow mistrust and undermine American democracy in the 2016 election and beyond. They have never wavered. We now know that intelligence agencies first became concerned in the summer of 2016 and briefed senior Obama officials. In October, before the election, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued a public statement formally announcing that the Russian government was attempting “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

In January 2017, the intelligence community went further, declassifying a report by the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and Director of National Intelligence called, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” It used strong language, concluding with “high confidence” that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

All of the evidence publicly released since then—including Russia’s well-orchestrated social media campaign using Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which reached over one hundred million Americans; the annual intelligence threat assessment; and the special counsel’s indictments of 26 Russian nationals for their involvement in cyber hacking and election interference—has pointed in one direction: Russia. This is no Iraq WMD moment, where time revealed that intelligence judgments were wrong and the threat wasn’t what we thought it was. It is a Cuban missile crisis moment—where time is revealing that the threat is actually far worse, and more imminent, than we originally believed. Today, there should be no question that Russia poses a threat to American democracy and security. The only question is what American leaders are going to do about it. Even Trump’s own intelligence agency heads have made clear, despite intense political pressure fro...