Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper knows how Putin’s mind works. And it is clear to him that Putin is using Trump.
During Donald Trump's speech Monday outlining his new national security plan, he acknowledged Russia as a "rival power."
But the speech was notable for its murkiness regarding the clear consensus of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Further, Trump's remarks once again contained unsettling praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking to CNN's Jim Sciutto, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had a very frank characterization of how Putin sees Trump, which makes that praise all the more troubling.
SCIUTTO: You heard the president’s speech today. He calls out Russia and China, describes them as rival powers — rival powers to the U.S. — but also says he wants to build a "great partnership" with them, and then had all this friendly stuff to say about his phone calls with Vladimir Putin this week. Is that a contradictory message?
CLAPPER: Well, it is to me. I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset. And that’s what he’s doing with the president.
SCIUTTO: You’re saying that Russia is handling President Trump as an asset?
CLAPPER: Well, that seems to be the — that’s the appearance to me.
Clapper proceeded to tell a semi-stunned Sciutto that while he served at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 90's, he came to learn that negotiating with Russia was "pretty much of a one-way street." Russia seeks to get whatever information it can from U.S. officials without divulging anything of its own.
And it is clear to Clapper that Putin had to do nothing more than flatter Trump to get his obedience.
"You have to remember Putin’s background," said Clapper. "He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin’s come into play here."
For America’s head of state and commander in chief to be viewed this way by a hostile foreign power, and to be manipulated so easily, is the founding fathers’ nightmare scenario. The dearth of leadership under Trump, and his disturbing pliability when it comes to his ego, could be steering the country into disaster.