Sen. Rand Paul debates CNN's Wolf Blitzer about "Trump derangement syndrome" and the media's reaction to the Trump-Putin summit. He responds to Newt Gingrich, who tweeted that
"I think people have gotten over top on this and lost the big picture," Paul said. "The big picture is that we should be engaged with Russia. We should have conversations with Russia. We have serious conflicts in various parts of the globe. It would be a mistake not to have open lines of communication with them."
"And I can tell you what I have told the Russians who were here in the United States when I conversed with them. Hacking into the election if they did it and all likelihood the evidence looks like they did, it has backfired because it's made relations worse. And so, if they want to have better relations, there should be a great deal of incentive as time goes for them not to do it again because it’s made relations so much worse. And so, my hope is that we will push the issue and that over time those incentives will be apparent," he added.
"Instead of making this about everything's about Trump and accusing Trump of collusion with the Russians and all this craziness, that's not true, we should try to protect the integrity of our elections," Sen. Paul also said. "Nobody is talking about protecting the integrity of the elections. How would you protect the integrity of the elections? Make sure they're decentralized. Make sure there’s very good controls from the precinct on up. Make sure we’re not storing the data in a central area where there aren't checks and balances at the local area. There are a lot of ways to make sure our election is not tampered with."
"Also, it’s important when you say the Russians meddled, they hacked into Hillary Clinton's e-mail, and revealed some truths about her that weren’t very popular. I agree they did that. But the thing is is nobody’s alleging that votes were changed, that they got into our electoral system," he noted.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on this right now. Joining us, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's a key member of the both the Foreign Relations and Homeland Security Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me get right to the question. Do you believe that President Trump's meeting with Putin made America safer?
PAUL: You know, I think engagement with our adversaries, conversation with our adversaries is a good idea. Even in the height of the Cold War, maybe at the lowest ebb when we were in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, I think it was a good thing that Kennedy had a direct line to Khrushchev. I think it was a good thing that we continue to have ambassadors to Russia even when we really objected greatly to what was going on, even during Stalin’s regime.
So, I think that it is a good idea to have engagement. And I think that what is lost in this is that I think there's a bit of Trump derangement syndrome. I think there are people who hate the president so much that this could have easily been President Obama early in his first administration setting the reset button and trying to have better relations with Russia, and I think it's lost on people that they're a nuclear power. They have influence in Syria. They're in close proximity to the troops in Syria. They are close to the peninsula of North Korea and may have some influence that could help us there.
The other thing that's lost and people forget this completely, the Russians tried to help us stop the Boston marathon bombing. We actually did help them stop a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg because we were communicating and exchanging information.
All those things are good --
BLITZER: But, Senator --
PAUL: -- but these people hate Trump so much, all of that is being lost.
BLITZER: It's not a matter of hating President Trump. It's a matter of what he did today, what he said today. He met with President Putin as you know for more than two hours. Unlike other presidents, especially on foreign soil, he blamed the United States for the bad relationship with Russia. He declined to back his own intelligence community for its assessment. He declined to support the U.S. law enforcement community.
BLITZER: -- including the Justice Department. He continues -- Senator, he continues to call the -- hold on a second. He continues to call the news media, a free press in the United States, the enemy of the American people. He says the European Union is a --
PAUL: But I think -- Wolf? Put this in perspective.
BLITZER: Senator, has any other president --
BLITZER: Has any other president in American history done anything like that?
PAUL: But I think I would put it in perspective. So, for example, when you look at the intelligence community, the most recent leaders of the intelligence community, James Clapper and John Brennan, James Clapper perjured himself --
BLITZER: I’m talking about Dan Coats, I’m talking about Dan Coats, the current director --
PAUL: If you'll let me answer, Wolf --
BLITZER: Senator, I’m not talking about earlier --
PAUL: We can't have much of an interview -- Wolf, if you’re going to interrupt me, we can’t really have an interview.
BLITZER: No, I just want to be precise. It's not Clapper, it’s not Brennan. It’s Dan Coats and Mike Pompeo.
PAUL: You're usually better than this, Wolf. You need to allow the respondent to respond.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
PAUL: It does matter who was in charge of the intelligence. It does matter because they started up this and ginned up this whole thing that have gone after the president saying he’s committed collusion with Russia. No evidence of that and it continues to go on. Who are the people that started this?
James Clapper, who lied to the Senate, said they weren’t collecting our information and yet they were collecting all of our information and housing it in Utah.
John Brennan has now accused -- let me finish. John Brennan has now accused the president of treason. This is John Brennan who voted for the communist party when he was a young man. John Brennan now thinks he's holier than anybody else. But these people had the power to collect every American’s information and these are the people --
BLITZER: All right.
PAUL: -- that I am concerned used their bias against President Trump and absolutely I’m with the president on this. The intelligence community was full of biased people including Peter Strzok, McCabe and dozens of others.
BLITZER: And so, and so what about Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats? Who both say there is no doubt that Russia interfered, attacked the United States during the presidential election?
BLITZER: Did they vote for communists when they were young?
PAUL: What I would say is I don't think anybody doubts that the Russians got involved with leaking e-mail and hacking into e-mail. But there is a question of whether or not the election was legitimate and all of this is a sideways way for those on the left to try to delegitimize Trump and to say he didn’t really win the election. When the reality of the election was really about Hillary Clinton being unfit for office, being a dishonest person who enriched, her and her husband enriched themselves at taxpayers’ expense, and at the expense of receiving money from people like the sultan of Brunei and Saudi Arabia.
So, it was really a much more complicated situation. But what’s happened is everybody now says the Russians, the only reason Trump is president is because of the Russians. You can see how he would take that personally and, frankly, I don't think anybody from Kentucky -- he got nearly 80 percent of the vote in the mountains, I don't think anybody was influenced at all by anything that do with the Russians. They didn't like Hillary Clinton because she wanted to kill the coal industry in our state.
BLITZER: But, Senator, Senator, you and I have known each other for a long time. I’ve interviewed on many occasions. Let me put up on the screen what Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, a former Republican senator, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, Russia definitely did try to influence the campaign. That's what he said.
Chris Wray, the FBI director, also named by the president, I have no reason whatever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community.
PAUL: Here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on. Mike Pompeo, all of them said exactly the same thing.
PAUL: But I would put this in perspective, Wolf. Doug Levine looked at this from the Carnegie Mellon Institute and he looked at it from 1946 to 2000. And he found 81 times that the U.S. involved themselves and meddled in elections of foreign countries 36 times than the Soviet Union did.
It doesn't make it right, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Any country that can spy does and any country that can meddle in foreign elections does. All countries are doing this. But we’ve elevated this to a higher degree and we have made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election and it's all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this.
BLITZER: Senator, Senator, I got to disagree with you. Let me -- I know Dan Coats disagrees with you, as well. I’ll read the statement he issued today after the president's news conference with Putin. Listen to this and then I’ll give you a chance to respond.
We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of the national security.
Go ahead, respond to your former colleague.
PAUL: And I don't disagree with anything that was said there. What I would say instead of making this about everything's about Trump and accusing Trump of collusion with the Russians and all this craziness, that's not true, we should try to protect the integrity of our elections.
Nobody is talking about protecting the integrity of the elections. How would you protect the integrity of the elections? Make sure they're decentralized. Make sure there’s very good controls from the precinct on up. Make sure we’re not storing the data in a central area where there aren't checks and balances at the local area.
There are a lot of ways to make sure our election is not tampered with. Also, it’s important when you say the Russians meddled, they hacked into Hillary Clinton's e-mail, and revealed some truths about her that weren’t very popular. I agree they did that. But the thing is is nobody’s alleging that votes were changed, that they got into our electoral system. But that is a danger and --
PAUL: -- we should guard against that.
BLITZER: Who do you trust, Senator, the American intelligence community, the American law enforcement community or Vladimir Putin?
PAUL: What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances and I think our intelligence community has way too much power. The fact that Peter Strzok was able to bring incredible bias towards the president --
BLITZER: But, Senator, who do you believe? Who do you believe?
PAUL: That's not the question. The right question is, should that power be unchecked or should you have a judicial system that says, you know what? You want to get information --
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying. But --
PAUL: -- you have to have warrants. You have to have checks and balances on intelligence.
BLITZER: But who do you believe? The intelligence community of the United States or Putin?
PAUL: I’m not discounting the allegations that the Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. I’m not discounting that at all.
BLITZER: So, so why don't you just say you believe in the intelligence community, the law enforcement -- you accept their assessments and move on?
Let me read a tweet that Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, just put out. And I’ll read it to you right now. President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected immediately.
Do you agree with Gingrich?
PAUL: No. I think people have gotten over top on this and lost the big picture. The big picture is that we should be engaged with Russia. We should have conversations with Russia. We have serious conflicts in various parts of the globe. It would be a mistake not to have open lines of communication with them.
And I can tell you what I have told the Russians who were here in the United States when I conversed with them. Hacking into the election if they did it and all likelihood the evidence looks like they did, it has backfired because it's made relations worse. And so, if they want to have better relations, there should be a great deal of incentive as time goes for them not to do it again because it’s made relations so much worse.
And so, my hope is that we will push the issue and that over time those incentives will be apparent.
BLITZER: I know there's a little delay. I’m here in Helsinki, you’re in Washington. So, occasionally, it might be awkward.
Bottom line, senator. Do you believe that what President Trump did today here in Helsinki was good?
PAUL: I think it was a great idea and a good idea to meet with the Russians and to have engagement, conversations, and to make sure that we don't accidentally stumble into war.
BLITZER: Everybody, everybody agrees it's good to have good relations with Russia, to have a dialogue with Russia. But do you believe it was good that the president of the United States threw his intelligence community under the bus and sided with Putin?
PAUL: Yes. I don't see it that way at all, but I do see that many Democrats have come forward and they basically want a confrontation. They suggested that he not meet with Putin.
So, really, the question of to meet or not meet, almost every Democrat in Washington came on your program and other programs said he shouldn't meet with Putin. That's a kind of sort of I think simplistic thinking that leads to war. We should continue to have conversation even with our adversaries, probably most particularly with our adversaries.
BLITZER: I got to tell you, Senator, it’s not just Democrats. It's a bunch of fellow Republicans who think it was a mistake, especially now with hindsight.
And I also have to tell you based on everything we are hearing, a lot of his own national security, military and diplomatic personnel, they also agree this was a huge blunder on the part of the president of the United States to exit from this meeting with Putin the way he did. It's going to cause enormous, enormous grief for the president and his administration.
But I’m grateful to you as usual for joining us and expressing your views. Thank you very much.
Senator Rand Paul remaining silent in the aftermath of that. Appreciate it very much.