U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly asked the FBI during his first intelligence briefing in 2016 whether the Russians were bad — a question that came as the FBI was warning the candidate that they were trying to infiltrate his campaign.
A summary of the briefing published on Friday by Politico showed that the Republican candidate was curious about the threat that Russia posed, especially when compared to the Chinese. At the time, federal investigators were looking into allegations that the Kremlin was interfering in the U.S. presidential election and would later conclude that it did — with the goal of helping Trump to be elected. Trump was briefed on the potential threats.
As The Huffington Post noted, he asked the person delivering the briefing, “Are the Russians bad?” and went on to also ask whether Russia or China was worse when it came to violating a ban on nuclear testing. The briefer explained that it was difficult to make a direct comparison between Russia and China, as the presence from Chinese operatives was asymmetrical.
“The FBI agent then shared that when he told Trump and his team that the U.S. is a ‘world leader in counterintelligence,’ Trump asked: ‘Russia, too?'” the report noted.
Michael Flynn, who later served as Trump’s national security adviser but was fired and later convicted of lying to investigators during the Russia investigation, was present as well and asked the briefer whether the number of Russian operatives in the United States was higher or lower than during the Cold War. The person giving the briefing said that it was close to the same.
It is not unusual for presidential candidates to begin receiving intelligence briefings during the campaign, and recently Vice President Joe Biden said he started to receive them. Biden said he learned that Russia is still trying to interfere in the upcoming presidential race in an effort to delegitimize the electoral process.
Trump himself faced questions of whether his campaign welcomed Russian interference and colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, a charge that the president has long and vehemently denied. A report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy, though it did note a number of communications between Trump’s inner circle and Russia.
Recently, the president has come under fire after reports that a Russian intelligence agency had been offering bounties to Taliban-connected militants for killing U.S. soldiers.
Though many politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for a more thorough investigation and potential consequences, including sanctions, Trump has been largely silent on the allegations.