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National Security

Fmr. CIA Director Brennan Says Trump 'Ceded' Ground to Putin

“I don’t think he demonstrates good negotiating skills when it comes to Mr. Putin,” said John Brennan, who led the CIA from 2013 until January of his year.
Image: Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies during a House Permanent Select Committee
Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies during a House Intelligence Committee hearing about Russian actions during the election in Washington, D.C., on May 23.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former CIA Director John Brennan said in an exclusive interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he felt President Trump "ceded" ground to Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues concerning his country's interference in the U.S. presidential election.

"I don't think he demonstrates good negotiating skills when it comes to Mr. Putin," said Brennan, who led the CIA from 2013 until January of this year.

Brennan brought up Trump's comments about feeling "honored" to meet Putin on sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Germany Friday. "He said it's an honor to meet the individual who carried out the assault on our election? To me, it's a dishonorable thing to say," he added.

In a series of tweets Sunday morning, Trump floated the idea of working with the Russians on cyber-security, writing, "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded."

Brennan said comments like these certainly indicate the president "doesn't take the word of the intelligence community and that's what he's been doing repeatedly, in terms of his public comments."

"Two days before the G-20 summit, in Warsaw, he continued to question the intelligence community's high confidence assessment that Russia interfered in the election," Brennan continued.

"He also raised questions about the integrity and capabilities of the U.S. intelligence community. And so therefore, I seriously question whether or not Mr. Putin heard from Mr. Trump what he needed to about the assault on our democratic institutions of the election."

Related: Graham Slams 'Disastrous Meeting' With Putin, Calls Russia Trump's 'Blind Spot'

America's intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election through hacking and other disinformation measures in an attempt to tilt the result toward Trump and against Hillary Clinton. NBC News has previously reported that senior intelligence officials believe with a "high degree of confidence" that Putin was personally involved in the meddling effort.

After meeting with Trump, Putin told reporters that he felt Trump accepted denials that Russia wasn't involved, but the White House pushed back on that assertion. Trump himself has a long history of waffling on whether he believes Russia was behind last year's hacks into Democrats.

Brennan left it to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the independent probe into whether there was any possible coordination between Russia and associates of the Trump campaign, to come forward with any new information that hasn't yet been publicly revealed in the investigation. Brennan said he has not been interviewed or contacted yet by Mueller.

The former CIA director also took issue with another one of Trump's Sunday morning tweets, specifically the one when he suggested, "questions were asked about why the CIA & FBI had to ask the DNC 13 times for their SERVER, and were rejected."

Brennan pushed back, telling NBC, "it's new to me as well if the CIA would ever ask for something like that. We have no domestic intelligence authorities. That's what the FBI does ... That is absolutely wrong."

Related: U.S. Officials: Putin Personally Involved in U.S. Election Hack

Brennan defended the Obama administration's response to Russia's attempts to meddle in the election, especially after reports detailing how the former administration struggled with how to strike back in a politically charged environment.

He took aim at an anonymous quote in the Washington Post from an official who called the Obama administration's reaction "the hardest thing" about their "entire time in government to defend" and that they "feel like we sort of choked."

"That was a really brave comment by an anonymous source," Brennan said. "They should be willing to say that on the record, first of all.

"No, I don't believe that the Obama administration choked," he added, citing conversations he had with his Russian counterpart, as well as President Obama's conversations with Putin, and the joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence that Russia directed hacks damaging Democrats.

"I didn't see evidence that they continued to do some of the things that we were concerned about, such as manipulating election tallies and other types of things," he said. "They were mapping the architecture of a lot of the state systems. So they could have done more. They didn't do more. I don't know whether or not the things that we did vis-a-via the Russians had an impact on them in terms of not pursuing it."

The issue continued to gain steam on Sunday, when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Trump "knew" Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election.

"You had two men walk into the room. You had two men who knew the exact same thing — which is Russia did meddle in the elections. I think President Trump wanted to make sure that President Putin was aware that he was acknowledging it, that he knew it. I think President Putin did what we all expected him to do, which was deny it. And I think that is what it is," Haley said.

"President Trump still knows that they meddled. President Putin knows that they meddled, but he is never going to admit to it. And that's all that happened," she added.

Haley declined to answer what consequences Russia would face as a result of the election interference, saying, "I think you're going to have to ask the president."

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday denied a report of an idea to raise taxes for the wealthy to pay for middle and working class-tax cuts, a proposal reportedly floated by chief strategist Steve Bannon.

"I have never heard Steve mention that. It's another example of a false leak that's being reported," Mnuchin said on ABC's "This Week."

"I think it's very clear kind of we have a proposal out there that the administration has put out with a top rate of 35 percent where we reduce and eliminate almost every single deduction," he added. "So that means that people who are in the high tax state also have no tax reduction, and it'll be offset by reduced deductions."

Mnuchin added that the plan had not been finalized, but said the president's focus was on "a middle income tax cut, reforming the business tax system to make it competitive, and creating a tax simplification that will grow this economy."