Rand Paul's controversial defense of Trump's relationship with Putin

world | Jul 17, 2018 | By Martin Barillas

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) expressed support for President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the president’s summit meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Finland. The Kentucky Republican told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, "Any country that can spy does, and any country that can meddle in foreign elections does." On Blitzer’s "The Situation Room,” Paul went on to say, "All countries are doing this, but we've elevated this to a higher degree, and we've made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election, and it's all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this."

Democrats and other critics of the president, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), condemned Trump’s statements at a joint press conference with Putin. However, Paul said that he stands “absolutely” with Trump. “I think engagement with our adversaries, conversations with our adversaries, is a good idea,” Paul said, adding, “Even in the height of the Cold War, I think it was a good thing that [President John F. Kennedy] had a direct line to [Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev].”

Paul blamed partisan bloviating for the current statements condemning Trump. “I think there is a bit of Trump-derangement syndrome,” Paul said. “I think there are people who hate the president so much that this could have easily been President Obama early in his first administration setting the reset button and trying to have better relations with Russia.” Saying that Russia has been a valuable intelligence asset that could become helpful in establishing diplomatic relations with North Korea, Paul said, “All those things are good.” He added, “But because people hate Trump so much, all of that’s being lost.”

“It’s not a matter of hating President Trump,” Blitzer said. “It’s a matter of what he did today, what he said today. He met with a President Putin as you know more than two hours, unlike other presidents. Especially on foreign soil, he blamed the United States for the bad relationship with Russia. He declined to back his own intelligence community for its assessment. He declined to support the U.S.”

Blitzer appeared to become agitated at times during the interview, interrupting the senator with questions. “You’re usually better than this, Wolf. You need to allow the respondent to respond,” Paul said.

“Go ahead,” Blitzer responded.

“I’m concerned about the use of bias against President Trump and absolutely with the president on this. The intelligence community was full of bias people, including Peter Strzok, McCabe and dozens of others,” Paul said.

Paul said at one point, “If you’re going to interrupt me on every question, Wolf, we can’t really have an interview.” Paul remonstrated Blitzer, saying “If you want to have an interview, you got to let me answer the question...You’re usually better than this … at doing an interview.”

Also during the interview, when he was presented with the opinion supposedly shared widely by the U.S. intelligence community about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Paul said that the emphasis should be on election security instead of Trump. "I don't disagree with anything that was said there," Paul said in response to a statement by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Monday. "What I would say is that instead of making this about, everything is about Trump and accusing Trump of collusion with the Russians and all this craziness that's not true, we should try to protect the integrity of our elections."

When he was asked if he trusts the U.S. intelligence community rather than Russian leader Putin, Paul called for increased checks on the authority of the intelligence community and also decried its power. "Should that power be unchecked, or should you have a judicial system that says you know what, you want to get information, you have to have warrants and you have to have checks and balances on intelligence?" Paul said.

On Tuesday, Paul again defended President Trump, commending the Commander-in-Chief for meeting with adversaries in order to "try to prevent us from having World War 3." Speaking on CBS, Paul averred that “the vast majority of the foreign policy community, the bipartisan consensus said you shouldn't meet with Putin." He went on to say, "They also said he shouldn't meet with Kim and this is an extraordinary thing about President Trump that should be lauded and not belittled is that he is willing to meet with adversaries to try to prevent us from having World War 3."

Paul said that Trump "did a good thing" by meeting with Putin. He warned colleagues that it was a "mistake" to "try to turn this into a partisan escapade." When Paul compared Trump’s summit meeting with Putin to Ronald Reagan’s summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, "CBS This Morning" co-anchor John Dickerson claimed that Reagan had stated Americans’ moral objection to the Soviet Union during that meeting. Paul objected, and said that it was not fair to Trump, recalling that Reagan had denounced Gorbachev’s “evil empire.”  "While the rhetoric was strong, you might actually compare that with Trump's rhetoric in North Korea, it's been very strong. So I think there's actually some apt comparisons between Reagan and Trump on the diplomatic front," Rand said. "We have to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, and if we're only going to talk to people who have perfect constitutional republics, we're going to have a very small audience and we're going to have a lot of potential conflicts with no outlet for diplomacy," he added. 

The New York Post issued a cover on Tuesday that suggested that President Trump had committed “treason” in his dealings with Putin. Former CIA director John Brennan said on Monday that Trump was “nothing short of treasonous” in his dealings with the Russian leader. And Republican Sen. John McCain released a statement that characterized the news conference as "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory" and one in which Trump had “abased himself before a tyrant.”

On Tuesday, Trump said said he accepts the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia directed cyberattacks to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Speaking from the Cabinet Room at the White House, Trump said on Tuesday, Trump said that after reviewing the transcript of his remarks in Helsinki on Monday, he realized that he meant to say he did not see any reason why it wouldn't have been Russia that interfered. "I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript...I realized that there is a need for some clarification," Trump said Tuesday at the White House. "The sentence should have been...'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia'." At the press conference in Helsinki with Putin, Trump said about the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, "(Putin) just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

On Tuesday at the White House, Trump added, "Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America's intelligence agencies, I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies." Trump told reporters, “Let me be totally clear in saying that — and I've said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also."

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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