WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Will Hurd – a former CIA agent – blasted President Trump for failing to defend the U.S. intelligence community and allowing himself to be manipulated by Russia.
"Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people," the Texas congressman wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in the New York Times. "I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them."
Hurd said Trump "played into (Russian President) Vladimir Putin's hands" by failing to agree with U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and hacked into Democratic campaign committees.
Trump was widely criticized for his comments at a news conference with Putin on Monday in Helsinki, where Trump appeared to accept Putin's denials that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. election.
"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said Monday. "He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."
Trump seemed to walk back those comments the next day, saying he meant to say he didn't see any reason why it "wouldn't" be Russia.
"The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counter-influence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans," Hurd wrote.
He continued: "By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad."
Hurd is considered a moderate Republican and has broken from the president before. He opposes Trump's efforts to build a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling it a waste of taxpayer money that will not keep immigrants from crossing into the United States. Instead, he has advocated high-tech surveillance.
The congressman is in a highly competitive race for re-election in his swing district, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. He faces Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer.
Hurd said Congress must act to give intelligence agencies the tools they need to prevent Russian cyber attacks against the 2018 midterm elections. U.S. intelligence also must be able to counter Russia's propaganda campaign, which has manipulated social media to try to divide Americans, the congressman said.
Specifically, Hurd called on Congress to pass the Intelligence Authorization Act, which authorizes funding for cybersecurity and other intelligence activities. It also requires intelligence agencies to notify Congress within 14 days of any cyber attack or other action aimed at influencing an American election.
The House recently passed the bill. It still must be approved by the Senate.
"I strongly believe in the importance of Congress’s oversight responsibilities and will work with my colleagues to ensure that the administration is taking the Russian threat seriously," said Hurd, who is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.
"Without action, we risk losing further credibility in international negotiations with both our friends and foes on critical trade deals, military alliances and nuclear arms."
He finished by saying he hopes that Trump "shares my conviction that American strength, not weakness, is the best way to preserve a secure world in the face of adversaries like Russia."