Donald Trump’s unprecedented actions as president are stacking up daily, but this is a truly new one: A top FBI official will not say whether the president is an “unwitting agent” who aided Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. He said that Russia “employed a multifaceted approach intended to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” including efforts to “discredit” Hillary Clinton and help elect Trump.
“Did Donald Trump become an unwitting agent of the Russians?” asked Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
After a long pause, Priestap said, “I can’t really comment on that.”
“I don’t blame you for not answering that question,” replied Heinrich, to laughter from the audience.
This follows an expanding investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller as to whether Trump or his associates colluded with Russian forces to influence the 2016 presidential election. So far at issue: former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s multiple undisclosed meetings with Russian officials and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s proposal to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to set up a backchannel for communications with the Kremlin beyond the reach of U.S. intelligence.
At least one intelligence official publicly rang an alarm about Trump’s possible status as an unwitting Russian agent well before the election. In an August 2016 op-ed in The New York Times, former CIA Director Michael Morell wrote, “Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States,” Morrell wrote.
“In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” he stated.