A former high-ranking CIA official says President Trump’s refusal to stand by the U.S. intelligence community while on stage with Russia’s Vladimir Putin is “devastating” and believes Trump’s efforts to walk back those words on Tuesday was thoroughly meaningless.
Herbert E. Meyer served as special assistant to Reagan-era CIA Director William Casey and also as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. He’s also an accomplished producer and author, most recently writing the booklet, “Why is the World So Dangerous.”
As a Trump voter, Meyer says the president’s inability to decide whether U.S. intelligence or Vladimir Putin is telling the truth about meddling in the 2016 campaign, is deeply disappointing.
“He’s done a lot of good things and I’m supporting him. What he said in Helsinki was appalling. There’s just no way around it. He can apologize. He can back off, but you cannot unring a bell. What he said, the entire world heard it. Sorry, that was devastating,” said Meyer.
Meyer says Trump’s logic in granting equal weight to multiple U.S. intelligence reports and Putin’s denials would be considered ludicrous in any era of U.S. history.
“If somebody got up and said, ‘I don’t know, some people say the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, but I was talking with the Japanese Prime Minister and he says they didn’t do it. I have complete confidence in our military, but I’m not sure who attacked us at Pearl Harbor,’ we would say that man’s an idiot,” said Meyer.
In addition to the lack of confidence Trump’s comments inflict among the various intelligence agencies, Meyer says the president isn’t even consistent with his own allies in Congress.
“He trashed not only our intelligence community, but the committees in Congress, Devin Nunes’ committee for example, that issued an extensive report a month ago on what happened,” said Meyer.
Nunes, R-Calif., chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Meyer says a damage to morale is significant damage to any organization and the intelligence agencies are no exception, but he says the repercussions are far more broad.
“It’s devastating, not just to the intelligence community. It’s devastating to the United States. If you are an ally of our country now, you can’t pay any attention to what he says, because if it bounces badly he’ll just say something else,” said Meyer.
On Tuesday, Trump read a statement indicating he did accept the conclusions of intelligence professionals that there was meddling in the 2016 campaign. But Meyer says the clarification still carries two problems, starting with the fact that it comes too late.
“When he walks it back today, it’s meaningless. It’s like saying, ‘I think you’re a liar. Oh no, I don’t think you’re a liar.’ It just means that words don’t mean anything anymore,” said Meyer.
“Why should anybody pay attention to what he said (Tuesday)? He’s only issuing a clarification because it blew up in his face. I was just watching it on TV when you called me. He doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. He’s sort of mumbling it and reading it.
“He’s not only the country’s president, he’s the guy I voted for, and what he’s saying is just awful,” added Meyer.
Meyer is confident Putin is loving every minute of the controversy. Her doesn’t believe Putin is changing any major policy or plans based on his perceived diplomatic victory, but there’s little doubt that the Russian leader considers Trump’s comments a big win.
“Putin’s primary objective in office is to humiliate the United States. That’s what he wants to do. Now you and I can say that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what he wants to do. If he could throw a banana peel under our feet, he would rather do that than have another one percent economic growth in Russia,” said Meyer.
Meyer says Trump is causing all sorts of trouble for himself by conflating Russian meddling with political collusion in his own campaign, when the two are distinctly separate issues.
“He folded the two of them together and made everything confused,” said Meyer.
So, is there an avenue for Trump to repair relations with our intelligence agencies? Meyer’s short answer is no.
“The president and I are the same age. Guys our age don’t change. Sorry, what you see is what you get. Words don’t mean anything. He could say anything. He can go out to Langley and give a speech and all that. It doesn’t mean anything. He stood on stage with the leader of Russia and trashed American intelligence,” said Meyer, who finds himself wincing as an American and as a Trump supporter.
“He’s wounded himself and that’s very bad for the United States, whether you’re Republican or Democrat. We have a president with a self-inflicted wound and that’s bad,” he said.