Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: Putin is handling Trump like a Russian 'asset'

In his sharpest critique yet, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper characterized President Donald Trump as an "asset" to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Clapper appeared on CNN after Trump announced his new national-security strategy, which categorizes China and Russia as rivals whose interests are "antithetical" to the US.' The White House additionally accused Russia of "using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies."

During the press conference, Trump also brought up the phone call he had with Putin over the weekend, during which the Russian leader called Trump to thank him for sharing critical CIA intelligence that thwarted a planned terror attack in St. Petersburg.

"Yesterday I received a call from President Putin of Russia thanking our country for the intelligence that our CIA was able to provide them concerning a major terrorist attack," Trump said. "That’s a great thing, and the way it’s supposed to work. That is the way it's supposed to work."

During Monday's interview on CNN, Clapper said that the US and Russia have shared intelligence of that nature for quite a while, and that Putin's phone call to Trump seemed "theatric" and was "illustrative of what a great case officer" he is. Clapper added that Putin, a former KGB operative, "knows how to handle an asset, and that's what he's doing with the president."

Trump has long expressed both admiration for Putin, as well as a desire to foster closer ties with Russia. He has also frequently echoed Putin's own talking points. Experts say the most prominent example is Trump's initial reluctance to accept the US intelligence community's findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to sway the race in his favor.

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Trump and Putin meet at APEC
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Trump and Putin meet at APEC
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (L) and US president Donald Trump during a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (L front) and US president Donald Trump before a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Donald Trump talk as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as the make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin walk together to take part in the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (CL front) and US president Donald Trump (CR front) before a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk before a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quangand and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk during a break in a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
(Front L to R) Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, (back L to R) Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha pose during the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
(Front L to R) China's President Xi Jinping, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, (back L to R) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump, and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha pose during the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
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He repeatedly cast doubt on the assessment, at times suggesting that there was no way to be sure that Russia meddled, that it could have been private hackers who weren't affiliated with the Russian government, that it could have been other countries, or rejecting the intelligence community's findings altogether.

He has also dismissed congressional and FBI investigations into Russia's election interference as politically-motivated "witch hunts" aimed at crippling his governing capacity, while disparaging the FBI's reputation as the "worst in history."

Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, and former FBI director James Comey — all of whom Trump called "political hacks" — have repeatedly warned of Putin's tactics, and Clapper said Monday that he appears to be playing to Trump's characteristics. The Russian leader is reportedly briefed on all of Trump's tweets — his preferred method of communicating with the public — and he has made remarks over the last few months that mirror Trump's own beliefs.

Like Trump, Putin often denounces the independent press, and he recently criticized the Russia investigation as being "invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr Trump to present his work as illegitimate."

"You have to remember Putin's background," Clapper said Monday. "He's a KGB officer. That's what they do. They recruit assets."

He added that Putin appears to be using his past experience and instincts now to manage "a pretty important account for him, if I could use that term, with our president."

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