Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) defended President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday amid intense backlash from Democrats and Republicans.
“Engagement with our adversaries, conversation with our adversaries is a good idea. Even in the height of the Cold War, maybe at the lowest ebb when we were in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, I think it was a good thing that Kennedy had a direct line to Khrushchev,” Paul told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday. He added:
So I think that it is a good idea to have engagement. And I think that what is lost in this is that I think there’s a bit of Trump derangement syndrome. 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, and I think it’s lost on people that they’re a nuclear power. They have influence in Syria. They’re in close proximity to the troops in Syria. They are close to the peninsula of North Korea and may have some influence that could help us there.
Trump and Putin met one-on-one for a formal meeting for the first time during Trump’s presidency. Previous meetings had been on the sidelines of other fora. Critics of Trump had criticized the meeting in advance, arguing that it should not even take place, but both leaders said they wanted to improve relations to be able to work on areas of mutual interest.
Criticism erupted after an Associated Press reporter asked whether Trump believed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments that Russia meddled in the election or Putin’s denial, and Trump said he had confidence in “both parties” and would like to see the Democratic National Committee’s server that was allegedly hacked by the Russians.
Democrats and many Republicans in Congress piled criticism on Trump, calling his actions treasonous and akin to throwing his own intelligence community under the bus.
Paul, a member of the Foreign Relations and Homeland Security Committees, called those attacks overblown and said Trump had reason to doubt the intelligence community:
I would put it in perspective. So, for example, when you look at the intelligence community, the most recent leaders of the intelligence community, James Clapper and John Brennan, James Clapper perjured himself. … They started up this and ginned up this whole thing that have gone after the president, saying he’s committed collusion with Russia. No evidence of that, and it continues to go on. Who are the people that started this?
James Clapper, who lied to the Senate, said they weren’t collecting our information, and yet they were collecting all of our information and housing it in Utah.
John Brennan has now accused — let me finish. John Brennan has now accused the president of treason. This is John Brennan who voted for the Communist Party when he was a young man. John Brennan now thinks he’s holier than anybody else. But these people had the power to collect every American’s information, and these are the people that I am concerned used their bias against President Trump, and, absolutely, I’m with the president on this. The intelligence community was full of biased people, including Peter Strzok, McCabe, and dozens of others.
Paul said although he does not think anybody doubts Russians got involved with hacking into and leaking emails, Democrats are using it as a way to delegitimize Trump.
“All of this is a sideways way for those on the left to try to delegitimize Trump and to say he didn’t really win the election,” he said.
He said, in reality, the election was about Hillary Clinton being a “dishonest” person:
The reality of the election was really about Hillary Clinton being unfit for office, being a dishonest person who enriched, her and her husband enriched themselves at taxpayers’ expense, and at the expense of receiving money from people like the sultan of Brunei and Saudi Arabia.
So it was really a much more complicated situation. But what’s happened is everybody now says the Russians, the only reason Trump is president is because of the Russians. You can see how he would take that personally, and, frankly, I don’t think anybody from Kentucky — he got nearly 80 percent of the vote in the mountains — I don’t think anybody was influenced at all by anything to do with the Russians. They didn’t like Hillary Clinton because she wanted to kill the coal industry in our state.
Paul added he did not dispute that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections but said that a Carnegie Mellon Institute study showed that the U.S. meddled in foreign elections 81 times from 1946 to 2000.
“It doesn’t make it right, but I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: any country that can spy, does, and any country that can meddle in foreign elections, does. All countries are doing this. But we’ve elevated this to a higher degree, and we have 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,” Paul said.