Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: Putin is handling Trump like a Russian ‘asset’

  • Former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was handling President Donald Trump as an intelligence “asset.”
  • Trump has frequently praised the Russian leader and expressed the desire to foster closer ties with Russia. The two also share similar views on numerous topics, like the media and the ongoing Russia investigation.
  • Clapper said Putin appeared to be using his past experience and training as a KGB officer in “managing a pretty important account,” referring to Trump.

In his sharpest critique yet, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper characterized President Donald Trump as an “asset” to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Clapper appeared on CNN after Trump announced his new national security strategy, which categorizes China and Russia as rivals whose interests are “antithetical” to the US.’ The White House additionally accused Russia of “using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies.”

During the press conference, Trump also brought up the phone call he had with Putin over the weekend, during which the Russian leader called Trump to thank him for sharing critical CIA intelligence that thwarted a planned terrorist attack in St. Petersburg.

“Yesterday I received a call from President Putin of Russia thanking our country for the intelligence that our CIA was able to provide them concerning a major terrorist attack,” Trump said. “That’s a great thing, and the way it’s supposed to work. That is the way it’s supposed to work.”

During Monday’s interview on CNN, Clapper said that the US and Russia had shared intelligence of that nature for quite a while and that Putin’s phone call to Trump seemed “theatric” and was “illustrative of what a great case officer” he is. Clapper added that Putin, a former KGB operative, “knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”

Trump has long expressed both admiration for Putin as well as a desire to foster closer ties with Russia. He has also frequently echoed Putin’s talking points. Experts say the most prominent example is Trump’s initial reluctance to accept the US intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to sway the race in his favor.

He repeatedly cast doubt on the assessment, at times suggesting that there was no way to be sure that Russia meddled, that it could have been private hackers who weren’t affiliated with the Russian government, that it could have been other countries, or rejecting the intelligence community’s findings altogether.

He has also dismissed congressional and FBI investigations into Russia’s election interference as politically motivated “witch hunts” aimed at crippling his governing capacity, while disparaging the FBI’s reputation as the “worst in history.”

Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former FBI Director James Comey – all of whom Trump has called “political hacks” – have repeatedly warned of Putin’s tactics, and Clapper said Monday that the Russian president appeared to be playing to Trump’s characteristics. Putin is believed to be briefed on all of Trump’s tweets – Trump’s preferred method of communicating with the public – and he has made remarks over the past few months that mirror Trump’s beliefs.

Like Trump, Putin often denounces the independent press, and he recently criticized the Russia investigation as being “invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr. Trump to present his work as illegitimate.”

“You have to remember Putin’s background,” Clapper said Monday. “He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets.”

He added that Putin appeared to be using his past experience and instincts now to manage “a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president.”

Watch Clapper’s interview on CNN below: