Michael Morell, a career intelligence officer who was acting and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013, expressed concerns that high-level political operatives connected to Donald Trump's campaign are working on behalf of Russian interests.
In a Friday conference call hosted by Hillary Clinton's campaign, Morell railed against Trump for being complacent with hacks that the US intelligence community has pinned on the Russian government.
"The thing I'm deeply concerned about it that the people around Donald Trump, the Paul Manaforts, the Roger Stones, the Carter Pages, may be into this more deeply, maybe have relationships with Russia, financial relationships … and they're actually working on behalf of the Russians in getting this material out and spreading this around," Morell said, referencing Trump's former campaign chairman and two current advisers.
Morell has endorsed Clinton, the Democratic nominee, for president.
Trump, the Republican nominee, has been fairly uncritical of Russia during this election cycle, at one point even inviting Russian hackers to find and publish Clinton's emails. He has also spoken favorably of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called Trump a "very talented" man.
"I think that Trump's motivation here to play into Putin's hands is driven by one thing for sure and one thing that I'm deeply concerned about," Morell said. "The thing I'm sure about is that Trump is cozying up to Putin because Putin has played him like a fiddle. Putin has figured out what makes Donald Trump tick and he’s playing to it and Donald Trump is responding."
Morell said Trump "just doesn't get what Putin is trying to do here."
"Trump continues to play to Putin's hands almost every single day," Morell said.
He also accused Trump of encouraging Russian meddling in the US presidential election.
"In my mind, he's actually cheering it on," Morell said. "He's reading from Wikileaks material at his rallies. … He's encouraging people to read the hacked materials. He is encouraging this attack on our democracy. I just find that amazing and shocking."
The US Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence formally accused the Russian government of hacking Democratic Party organizations in a letter posted online last week. The letter says the cyberattacks that targeted US political organizations were "intended to interfere with the US election process." It also accuses senior officials within the Russian government of approving the hacks.
Morell said the hacks were meant to "inflict maximum damage on one of the candidates," referring to Clinton.
"I cannot remember a single time in American history where the American government has accused another government of trying to interfere in our election," he said. "This is unprecedented, and as an intelligence official, it shakes me to my core."
Trump has so far refused to acknowledge Russia's role in the hacks.
"This is not a rogue operation by Russian intelligence," Morell said. "[T]his goes to the highest levels of Russian government. The way Putin manages his intelligence services is hands-on. He is a micro-manager. … So I am 100% confident that he is aware of all of this, he has approved it, he is directing it."
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