Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has been one of President Donald Trump’s few defenders amid a furor over this week’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, ripped former CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday.
Brennan tweeted that Trump’s comments regarding Russian election meddling were “nothing short of treasonous.” Standing next to Putin at a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, Trump told reporters that he could not say for sure whether Russian agents hacked the computer systems of Democratic operatives during the presidential election.
Trump on Tuesday sought to clarify his comments and pronounce his full support of U.S. intelligence services and its conclusions with regard to Russian activities during the 2016 campaign. But critics did not buy his explanation.
Paul, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that Brennan has no moral authority to pronounce judgment on Trump.
“John Brennan’s gonna go down in history as the most biased and bigoted and partisan CIA head, and it should scare us all that this man had the power to eavesdrop on our every movement, our every phone call, our every email,” he said on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
More outrageous, Paul said, is the suggestion floated by some former intelligence officials that current agents should withhold sensitive information from the president.
“That’s John Brennan, actually, trying to commit treason by advising people who have taken an oath of office not to give information. I mean, can you imagine?” he said. “This is somebody in the CIA saying … all the CIA agents should just go rogue and not pay attention to the orders of both the Constitution and their superiors. No, I think it’s the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard.”
Paul said Brennan’s conduct reinforces his belief that Brennan should not have been in the post. He noted that he led a filibuster to try to block the appointment.
“I had a bad feeling about him from the very beginning, and this was years ago,” he said.
Paul said Trump conflates two different issues. The first is whether Russia meddled, and the senator said be believes Trump accepts that conclusion. Paul said the other is whether Trump’s campaign colluded.
“There’s no evidence of that, and he takes that very personally,” he said. “So I think he does question that aspect of the intelligence investigation.”
The focus on Trump’s comments threatens to obscure a larger point, Paul said, which is that it is vital for the United States and Russia to maintain a dialogue.
“Even at the darkest hours of the Cold War [John] Kennedy had an open line of communication with [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev, and I think that may have averted nuclear war and was an important thing to have,” he said.
“But did they do anything to stop Russians meddling in the election? No.”
Trump also makes a valid point in noting that the election interference occurred during Barack Obama’s presidency, Paul said. He said Obama officials and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spread information gathered from an anti-Trump dossier financed by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“But did they do anything to stop Russians meddling in the election? No,” he said. “But they’ve also set this up as a — you know, “Hillary Clinton’s been on the sour grapes, the whine tour — whine, whine, whine about everything about how she should be president. Yet none of them did anything to stop this.”
Paul was noncommittal about a bill sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would impose automatic sanctions against Russia in retaliation for any future election interference. He called on Congress to beef up cyberdefense.
Russian leaders should get the message that trying to influence U.S. elections is not in their interests, Paul said. Just look at what its 2016 efforts yielded, he added.
“We’ve set this back, you know, our relationship, 20 years to the worst part of the Cold War,” he said. “So meddling, if they thought it was of benefit, it’s not.”