US intelligence officials called to resign despite Trump’s Russia retraction

Putin and TrumpSeveral American former intelligence officials have called on their active colleagues to resign despite President Donald Trump’s retraction of his remarks about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. On Tuesday, the US president issued an unusual retraction and correction of his public statement on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in which he appeared to side with the Kremlin over his own Intelligence Community’s views. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is the coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community, has said that Russia tried to systematically interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. According to the ODNI, the Kremlin’s goal was to augment the already heightened discord in American political life and deepen the mistrust between the electorate and state institutions, including Congress and the White House.

But President Trump dismissed those conclusions on Monday, while speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following the US-Russia summit in the Finish capital. During the joint press conference of the two leaders, the US president was asked to publicly adopt the US Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. But instead of doing so, Trump said his Russian counterpart had strongly denied the American accusations. “My people came to me”, said Trump, referring by name to his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, and “said they think it’s Russia”. However, Trump continued, “President Putin […] just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be”. Following strong criticism of that comment, much of it from his own supporters, the US president retracted it on Tuesday in Washington, saying he misspoke in Helsinki. According to Trump, he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t”.

The US president’s odd retraction came just hours after DNI Coats –a Trump appointee– issued a rare public statement rejecting Trump’s comments in Helsinki. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”, said Coats, adding that his office’s conclusion had been based on “unvarnished and objective intelligence”. Coats’ predecessor, former ODNI James Clapper, said during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that, if he still led the ODNI and had been “publicly thrown under the bus” by the president in that manner, he “would have stepped down in a heartbeat”.

Meanwhile, John Brennan, who was replaced by President Trump as director of the CIA in 2017, went further on Monday, calling the US leader’s remarks in Helsinki “nothing short of treasonous”. The career CIA official also called Republican lawmakers to respond with firmness to Trump’s performance in Finland, tweeting: “Republican Patriots: Where are you???”. One of Brennan’s predecessors, former CIA director Michael Hayden, who also led the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush, said in an interview that Trump’s performance in Finland “could not have been a lot worse” for the US Intelligence Community. Another former senior CIA official, Steven Hall, who retired from the agency in 2015 after three decades in the National Clandestine Service, which runs intelligence operations around the world, said Trump’s statement in Finland had left him “really astounded and speechless”.

One of the strongest public condemnations of Trump’s Monday statement was issued by Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA. During an interview with CBS on Tuesday, Morell advised senior US intelligence officials “to consider stepping down”. They should “ask themselves whether they can continue to serve this president and represent the men and women of the intelligence community in a way that is positive”, said Morell. His comments were echoed on Wednesday by media pundits who speculated that Trump’s performance in Helsinki might cause DNI Coats and/or Secretary of Defense James Mattis to step down in protest.

But other former intelligence officials and lawmakers rejected calls for Trump appointees to resign. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker –a vocal critic of the US president from within the Republican party– argued that resignations by “people who at least are giving [Trump] good advice” would be counterproductive. John McLaughlin, who like Morell served as deputy director and acting director of the CIA, said on Tuesday that, on balance, “qualified and expert people [in] important positions [should] remain in them”. Doing otherwise would pose the “imponderable question of what comes next”, said McLaughlin.

As of 12:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon Washington time (GMT -04:00) no resignations of senior intelligence or security officials had been announced.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 July 2018 | Permalink

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One Response to US intelligence officials called to resign despite Trump’s Russia retraction

  1. Looking from the UK, it seems the USA is now in some sort of convoluted cold civil war. Trump’s behaviour is appalling and the best way for him to make America great again is to resign which looks highly unlikely given his narcissism and that he is Putin’s puppet. As for treason, under US law it is understood that Trump has not been treasonous yet … because the USA is not at war with Russia.

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