As North Korea ramped up its nuclear program, building missiles that most experts agree could hit the continental United States, U.S. President Donald Trump told officials that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had reassured him that Pyongyang did not possess such weapons — a claim Trump believed, according to the fired former acting FBI chief.
Andrew McCabe related the account in an interview aired Sunday on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” saying that Trump’s comments came despite being told by U.S. intelligence officials that the North did, in fact, possess such missiles.
The remarks also came as the investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia gained steam, with the president launching into “several unrelated diatribes.”
“One of those,” McCabe said, “was commenting on the recent missile launches by the government of North Korea. And, essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don’t actually have those missiles.”
McCabe, who prior to the controversial firing of onetime FBI Director James Comey had served as his deputy, said that intelligence officials who had briefed the president responded that “that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses” — a claim to which Trump said, “I don’t care. I believe Putin.”
North Korea declared its nuclear forces complete in late 2017 after it conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date in September and launched long-range missiles that experts said were capable of hitting most, if not all, of the continental United States.
Trump has repeatedly butted heads with his intelligence chiefs, some of whom have publicly contradicted his claims, including over whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will relinquish his nuclear weapons, something he has at times assured Americans that he will convince the dictator to do.
Still, McCabe called the exchange over the North Korean missiles and Putin “astounding.”
“To spend the time and effort and energy that we all do in the intelligence community to produce products that will help decision makers and the ultimate decision maker, the president of the United States — make policy decisions, and to be confronted with an absolute disbelief in those efforts and a unwillingness to learn the true state of affairs that he has to deal with every day was just shocking,” he said.