Former intel director reportedly feared Putin 'had something on Trump'

Trump's handpicked director of National Intelligence, during his tenure, reportedly feared that Trump had been compromised in some way by Russia.
Image: U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks during a press briefing at the White Hous
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 2, 2018.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who also served as a Republican senator before joining Donald Trump's team, was recently asked whether he supports the president's re-election. Coats didn't want to say.

On the surface, that wasn't too surprising. The former DNI struggled at times to both tell the truth about national security threats and simultaneously stick to the White House script. But just below the surface, the concerns were apparently even more severe.

[Bob Woodward writes in his new book] that Coats "continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump." Woodward continues, writing that Coats felt, "How else to explain the president's behavior? Coats could see no other explanation."

Don't brush past that paragraph too quickly. Trump's handpicked director of National Intelligence, during his tenure on the Republican president's national security team, reportedly suspected that Trump had been compromised by Russia.

And according to Woodward's reporting, the longer Coats served alongside the GOP president, the more he feared his suspicions were true.

This isn't the perspective of someone looking at Trump's behavior from the outside; this is the apparent perspective of someone on the inside, watching the president make decisions up close.

What's more, if Woodward's reporting is correct and Coats harbored these beliefs, the DNI wasn't along. Peter Strzok, the former top counterintelligence official at the FBI, appeared on MSNBC yesterday and was asked about the degree to which Vladimir Putin may have leverage over the current American president.

"Look, I recruited spies for two decades," Strzok replied. "What that looks like varies. On one end, you can have somebody who fully knows they're working for you, they're taking tasking, and they're going to do every single last thing you say. On the other end, you have someone who doesn't even know they're working for the United States government. I think the truth with President Trump lies in the middle."

He added, "Do I think that he's a Manchurian candidate? I don't. Do I think that he is doing things that are not in the interest of national security of the United States because of the things Russia holds over him that he does not want known? Absolutely, I believe that. That, if you step back -- if you look at that as a patriot, as an American citizen -- that's horrifying. But it exists, and it's real, and it's something that every American should be concerned about."

Strzok has a new book, "Compromised," which he'll be talking about with Rachel on tonight's show.