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Paul: Trump has ‘healthy dose of skepticism’ for U.S. intelligence on Russian interference

As President Trump returns from a Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says the U.S. and Russia “won't have any progress if we don't have any conversations.” While acknowledging that it’s likely that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, the senator says the U.S. also intervenes in foreign politics. Paul joins Judy Woodruff to share his reaction.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's hear from U.S. lawmakers now on both sides of the aisle.

    I spoke a short while ago to Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, who's a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security Committees.

    We started with the crescendo of reaction to today's meeting and how he sees it.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    You know, I think it's a good idea for us to have conversation even with our adversaries.

    You know, at the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy had a direct line to Khrushchev. We have always had ambassador even throughout the Cold War. Even during the years of Stalin, we had an ambassador to Russia.

    So, I think it's a good idea to keep lines of communications open. We have nuclear weapons on both sides. We have conflict in Syria where we're in close proximity.

    It would be nice to have help from Russia on North Korea as far as denuclearization. We have the Ukraine situation. So, no, I think that we won't have any progress if we don't have any conversations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think a number of your Republican colleagues are saying they agree with that, but they are arguing the president went farther than that today.

    Senator John McCain called it the most disgraceful performance he'd ever seen by an American president.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    Well, John McCain's been wrong on just about everything for the last 40 years.

    And I will give you an example. He's such a loose cannon and so emotional about issues that, when I opposed the expansion of NATO, which many have opposed, George Kennan among them, the most famous diplomat of the last century, opposed to the expansion of NATO as well, when I was exposed — opposed to the expansion of NATO, McCain said I was working for Putin.

    And so that kind of comment really doesn't even deserve to be countenanced. And, really, I think polite company or informed company shouldn't even countenance someone McCain, who basically calls someone who has an intellectual opposition to expanding NATO, calls them a traitor.

    So I don't think much of McCain's opinions on really any foreign policy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, what about House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was not as critical, but he said Mr. Trump must — quote — "appreciate that Russia is not our ally"?

    In other words, the impression that he's saying that came across is the president was simply too friendly with and too trusting of Vladimir Putin.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    Well, I think the president is different than many leaders we have had, who basically will litigate things to death and not meet with people.

    I think Trump is different, and he's willing to meet with foreign leaders and, actually, I think you may get a breakthrough because of the meetings. And I think, if this were anybody else, if there weren't such acute hatred for Trump, such Trump derangement syndrome on the left, I think, if this were President Obama — and it could have actually been President Obama early in the first term, when they were trying to reset our relations with Russia, that could have easily had a meeting like this — and the left and the media would have had a lovefest over President Obama.

    So, I think this really shows people — hatred for President Trump more than anything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think President Trump, Senator, was right to essentially accept the Russian version of events? Vladimir Putin's said, no, we didn't interfere in your election.

    And yet the entire intelligence community in this country has concluded the Russians did interfere. The president today was siding with the Russians. How do you read that?

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    I'm not so sure I would describe it as siding with the Russians.

    I would say that President Trump has healthy dose of skepticism towards our intelligence community. And I — I share some of that.

    I mean, James Clapper came before the Senate and lied. He said they weren't collecting our information. That's the biggest bold-faced lie that we have had in decades, and nobody did anything about it. James Clapper lied to the U.S. Senate about collecting our data.

    You now have John Brennan, whose first vote was for the communist party, now calling President Trump a traitor. And so these people have really exposed or revealed themselves as great partisans. And yet they had the power to snoop on any American, to snoop on any person in the world.

    And believe you me, they were scooping up everybody's information.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator, it's also the current head of intelligence, heads of intelligence, who are saying they believe the Russians interfered.

    Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said last week there's no question the Russians interfered.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, he put out a statement, "We will continue to provide unvarnished, objective intelligence in support of national security."

    He's saying he's on guard for Russian interference.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    Right.

    Yes. And I'm not saying they didn't interfere with the election. In all likelihood, they did.

    There's a guy named Dov Levin at Carnegie-Mellon who looked at this from 1946 to 2000. And he found 81 times in which the U.S. intervened in elections and about 36 times in the Soviet Union. None of it makes it right.

    But any country that can spy does, and any country that can intervene in foreign elections does. And so, yes, we have been involved in Russia and their elections. We have been involved in the Ukraine elections.

    And we say it's for democracy, but we don't support the Russian party. We support the pro-Western party. And we paint ours as if ours is always just on the up and up, but we get involved in foreign countries' elections.

    And so, yes, I think we have elevated this Russia thing to a degree that we are simply deranged by it. We are accusing President Trump of all kinds of things that I do not believe he's guilty of.

    But did the Russians get involved in it? Yes. And what I would tell the Russians is exactly what I have told their ambassador and others, is, if you thought it was going to help things, it's actually backfired, because there can be no rapprochement with Russia, no engagement with Russia because of the meddling in the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Senator, you don't think Vladimir Putin got the best of President Trump today?

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    No, not at all, because the thing is, is that we dwarf all other powers now.

    Europe's army, I think, is 13 times bigger than Russia's army. Us plus Europe, we're probably 30, 40 times bigger. We spend more on the military than the next 10 countries combined.

    There's not even a real comparison between the two. We are the sole remaining superpower. But I still think engagement is good, even when you are the sole remaining superpower.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, we thank you.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.:

    Thank you.

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