Former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday and responded forcefully to President Trump’s seeming acceptance of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that he did not interfere in our election. (Trump later clarified his statement to say that he just believed Putin believed this — which is nonsensical. Is he saying Putin doesn’t know what is going on in Russia?) Brennan had this exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper:
JAKE TAPPER: What is your response, Mr. Brennan, to what President Trump said about Vladimir Putin and U.S. intelligence agencies?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think Mr. Trump knows that the intelligence agencies, specifically CIA, NSA and FBI, the ones that really have responsibility for counterintelligence and looking at what Russia does, it’s very clear that the Russians interfered in the election. And it’s still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin. The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real. And I think his continuing to not say very clearly and strongly that this is a national security problem, and to say to Mr. Putin, we know you did it, you would have to stop it, because there are going to be consequences if you don’t.
Asked if this posed a danger to the United States, Clapper said “the Russians do not harbor good intentions toward the United States, and there shouldn’t be any illusions or any ambiguity about that. And our president — the president fosters that ambiguity.” Trump is getting played, Clapper said flat-out. Brennan weighed in again:
Well, I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered. And, also, I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations. So, it’s very worrisome. And I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes as well. So, it’s either naivete, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians.
The end result is to embolden Putin and demoralize our own intelligence community. “I just know that [Trump] has been very determined to try to delegitimize any effort to come up with the truth in terms of this investigation,” Brennan said. “His attacks on the intelligence community, on the assessment, the attacks on the media, this is an effort to, again, try to undermine those quarters that could pose a serious threat to him. Also, I think it shows the insecurity that he still feels about the election and how Russian interference may have contributed, in fact, to that election. So, I think there’s a combination of factors that are motivating the president at this time.”
To sum up, we have a president who is either scared of Putin, getting played by Putin or so emotionally fragile (or some of each) that he cannot acknowledge a factually indisputable attack on America’s electoral democracy. As a result, Trump refuses to take action to protect our electoral system and elevates a thuggish autocrat on the world stage.
Trump is quite plainly incapable of upholding his oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Even if he had not attacked democratic norms and institutions (the press, the courts, etc.), and not lied compulsively, and not abused power by pressuring and then firing FBI Director James B. Comey, Trump’s inability to act in the country’s best interests when they conflict with his personal, political and/or financial needs should lead a conscientious member of Congress to consider the extreme device of impeachment as set forth in the Constitution.
Consider that even if Trump were an actual agent of the Russians (which I do not believe), it would be hard to image he’d be acting much differently. And in that case, Congress surely would move swiftly to impeach him. Why then, when he is “merely” compromised or a “useful idiot” or unfit yet behaving in ways that advantage America’s most dangerous international foe and harm the United States should the Congress not move swiftly to remove him and leave Mike Pence as president?