On Saturday, President Donald Trump once again reiterated that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally assured him Russia played no role in interfering with the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, Trump said that he spoke with Putin regarding American intelligence agencies' claims while at an economic summit in Vietnam this week, and to hear him tell it, the Russian president again forcefully denied his government did any such thing. But a prominent Republican senator is calling out Trump's credulity ― John McCain called Trump "naive" for taking Putin's word over that of multiple U.S. intelligence agencies.
Talking to reporters on Air Force One on Saturday, en route from the economic conference in Danang to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, Trump reportedly remarked that Putin had again denied any Russian involvement in the 2016 election. The president also attacked former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper as "political hacks," according to CNN, and noted that Putin denied the allegations "very strongly."
I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks. So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them.
Trump further reportedly said there's only so many times he can ask if Russia was involved in the election-season hacking, and that he believes the vehement denials Putin has given him.
"Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump told the reporters. "And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it."
In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, McCain ― the senior Republican senator from Arizona, and a longtime target of some of Trump's most controversial and widely condemned intra-party attacks ― responded to Trump's comments by calling his trusting attitude towards Putin "naive," and a risk to national security.
President Trump today stated that he believed Vladimir Putin is being sincere when he denies Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and reiterated that he hopes to cooperate with Russia in Syria. There's nothing 'America First' about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community.
McCain also condemned Trump's ostensible justification for taking a friendlier tact towards Russia than many lawmakers favor, the idea that the world would be better off for improved relations between the U.S. and Russia. Specifically, McCain targeted the Russian government's ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
There's no 'principled realism' in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which remains the greatest obstacle to a political solution that would bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Vladimir Putin does not have America's interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.
Trump ultimately seemed to respond to McCain's criticisms, although without directly naming or referencing him, in a tweet sent late on Saturday evening. Taking full advantage of Twitter's new expanded character limit, Trump insisted that having an improved relationship with Russia would be "a good thing."
Trump also sent a follow-up tweet attacking his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, a familiar target throughout the first year of his presidency.
It's not necessarily surprising to see Trump take the side of the Russian government's official line over the assurances of his own intelligence agencies. During the presidential transition, Trump compared the CIA to Nazi Germany, upset over the public disclosure of the hyper-controversial Steele dossier. He's also consistently denied any allegations that his campaign colluded with the Russian government, calling the allegations "fake news" and a "ruse."