A recently retired CIA agent reveals that President Donald Trump was a "wild card" that prevented a full-scale effort to combat Russian aggression against the U.S. and its allies.
Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired from the agency in June, said in column posted at Just Security that the CIA issued an informal "call to arms" in the wake of Kremlin interference in the 2016 election, but those efforts were hampered by Trump's relationship with Russia's president Vladimir Putin.
"The Call to Arms required a whole-of-agency effort to counter the Kremlin," Polymeropoulos wrote. "It involved moving resources and personnel inside CIA. Most importantly, it required a change in mindset, similar to what occurred within the Intelligence Community after 9/11, that an 'all-hands-on-deck' approach was required."
Intelligence officials and senior leadership in law enforcement, the Pentagon and State Department agreed, but their efforts never had the full support of a skeptical president, Polymeropoulos wrote.
"The wild card was sitting in the Oval Office," he wrote. "With President Donald Trump’s puzzling admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was not clear that he had accepted and internalized the Intelligence Community’s conclusions of Kremlin malfeasance and incessant desire to harm the United States. If anything, the president repeatedly questioned the findings of the IC, preferring instead to accept Putin’s denials."
Trump's national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton agreed with the intelligence assessments on Putin's threat as an "outlaw regime," and helped coordinate the U.S. response to Russian aggression.
"This remains one of the great paradoxes of the Trump administration," Polymeropoulos wrote, "that President Trump could have such a clear affinity for Putin and was publicly unwilling to fully accept the results of the ICA, yet his national security team, acting under his authority, was united in countering Russian malfeasance around the world."
But Polymeropoulos sees reason to doubt those efforts will continue since his retirement six months ago.
"My fear stems primarily from the president, who has, in a matter of several months, quite overtly set back the overall U.S. government effort with his unfortunate meddling in Ukraine, as well as the pullback of U.S. troops from Syria," he wrote. "Trump has provided Putin a massive gift on both fronts."
Polymeropoulos warned that Trump's apparent affinity for Putin undermined the dedicated intelligence, diplomatic and military efforts to constrain Russia -- and that disconnect posed an unchecked threat to democracy and national security.
"We need to acknowledge the disconnect between this clear national security threat and our president whose affinity for Putin has never been so clear as it is now, especially as it has been translated into two damaging foreign policy mishaps that have hurt our country," he wrote. "Our national security institutions cannot fight with an arm tied behind their backs."
"Congress — both Democrats and Republicans alike — must hold this president accountable and ensure we counter the Kremlin on a global scale, not ceding an inch," Polymeropoulos added. "After all, the 2020 presidential election — with the Russian security services poised to act once again — is just around the corner."