The then-director of the CIA was suspicious of the president-elect of the United States, feeling that he couldn’t be trusted with American national security. Brennan writes that he had been wary of Trump going into the meeting, couldn’t believe he had won, then came away from that meeting thinking “foreign intelligence services take much the same approach” to interrogating information in search of sources. Despite the intelligence community conclusion that Russia was behind the attack, Trump was full of his own postulations about what other country might be responsible. And as they finished, Brennan writes, Trump looked at him and said, “Anyone will say anything if you pay them enough. I know you know that.” (Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, replied to my request to verify this statement by cc’ing several current National Security Council staff on an email, but that was the extent of the response.)
We’ve lived through four years of drips and leaks and reports and insinuations, but no single piece of information neatly explains what exactly we’ve been living through. Is it just a bunch of coincidences, overinterpreted bits of facts, and the Kremlin poking at our confusion, or is Trump part of some Russian plot? Does Putin have something on him? In his book, Brennan describes a days-long process of going through all the intelligence, the most-secret secrets, before calling the White House and saying he had to brief Obama on what he knew. He’s got to know.
Read: Putin is well on his way to stealing the next election
“I find it difficult to explain the extent to which Donald Trump has kowtowed” to Putin, Brennan says to me. One theory is that the Russians do have some compromising material or information on Trump, he offers. Another theory holds that he’s trying to line up future financial support from the oligarchs, who take their cues from Putin. Yet another option, I point out, is that Trump just likes strongmen; he has a toddler’s jealousy of the leaders who get to do whatever they want without being asked annoying questions like “Why?” or “Isn’t that against the law?”
That would make more sense if Trump hugged all authoritarians the way he hugs Putin, Brennan says.
So Putin does have something?
“I don’t know what Putin knows. Obviously, I know some of the things that Putin knows. I know some of the things that Donald Trump knows. But my description of those things in the book are limited by my security obligations,” Brennan says.
I can’t tell, I say to him, whether he’s not telling me something, or not telling me anything.
“I have my suspicions of things,” Brennan says. “But I think it would be unfair of me to just roll out my suspicions without doing the necessary review and the digging.”
More crazy-making. What about the pee tape? Is that real?
“I have no idea,” he says. “To me, that’s less important than all the other stuff. Trump has survived so much stuff. Will he be able to survive a pee tape? Probably. If Putin has something on him and/or if Trump is concerned about what Putin or the Russians could reveal, I think it would be something more significant. And I don’t think it’s unrelated to the reason why he’s not releasing financial records. He has a very well-deserved reputation, Donald Trump, for skirting regulations, laws, rules, whatever else he will do, whatever it is to advance his interests, and for many, many years, his focus was on advancing his brand as well as his financial interests.”