Former Acting Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin on Friday penned an op-ed for Politico Magazine sharply criticizing Donald Trump’s approach to Vladimir Putin, arguing the Russian president is “outsmarting” the president of the United States.
“When the Art of the Deal meets the KGB, the KGB will always win,” McLaughlin—who served for over 30 years at the Central Intelligence Agency—wrote. The former intelligence official pointed specifically to Trump’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 presidential election, an assertion that is disputed by every intelligence agency in the United States. McLaughlin also noted Trump’s dismissal of former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former FBI Director James Comey last week as “political hacks.”
“The president probably really believes what he first said,” McLaughlin reasoned, referring to Trump's original acceptance of Putin's claim. “Hard as it is to apply logic to Trumpisms, let’s try. If the intelligence community assessment was produced under the leadership of “political hacks” and if the president means it when he calls the Russia investigation a “hoax” (his most frequent characterization of it), then it’s only logical that he doubts the intelligence assessment and finds Putin’s denial congenial.”
Referencing the evolution of Trump’s response to the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA in August, McLaughlin predicted, “It’s only a matter of time before he returns to his first instinct—that it’s all a ‘hoax.’”
“The president is either incredibly naive and uninformed or Putin is a remarkably good KGB-trained case officer—or all of this,” McLaughlin wrote. “Dissembling is part of the intelligence art, but practiced nowhere better than in Russian intelligence and foreign policy. Facts, the evidence even of our eyes, do not get in the way.”
McLaughlin also argued Trump “crossed an important line” when he called out Brennan, Clapper and Comey last week.
“Disagreeing with their views on substantive grounds is fair game—anyone working in the intelligence arena is used to vigorous and contentious debate on that basis,” he wrote. “But to my knowledge, no president in the American intelligence community’s 70-year history has ever called its leaders ‘political hacks.’ Playing politics is the ultimate sin in American intelligence…”
The former CIA head warned Trump’s continued refusal to call out Putin for meddling in the election makes it less likely the United Sates will be able to defend itself from future attacks. “So long as the president persists in his current approach to Putin, few will trust him to exercise his vaunted Art of the Deal—which at this point is looking like just a clever book title,” McLaughlin wrote.