WASHINGTON - Political acrimony over President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is playing into the hands of a longtime U.S. adversary, several current and former U.S. intelligence officials say.
“From a geopolitical standpoint, the real winner is Russia,” said Luke Hartig, a former senior director at the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama.
'Could Russia want anything more?'
Jeffrey Ringel, a recently retired 21-year veteran of the FBI now serving as director of The Soufan Group, echoed similar sentiments about how the current political dynamic is playing out.
“Could Russia want anything more?” Ringel asked of Comey’s sudden dismissal. “Russia is probably very happy with the results of this action because this action is going to bog down the [FBI’s] investigation.”
Trump said he fired Comey because “he wasn’t doing a good job.”
A memo from the Justice Department criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation of whether former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mishandled classified material.
Democrats and some Republicans see the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign as the real reason Comey was fired.
Adding fuel to the controversy was Wednesday’s meeting between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, one day after Comey was fired. The White House did not let the media into the meeting for a customary photo opportunity. The only pictures of the meeting came from the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Before meeting with Trump, Lavrov, at the State Department, made light of Comey’s departure, joking with American reporters who asked whether his dismissal cast a shadow over the foreign minister’s visit.
"Was he fired?" Lavrov coyly asked them at the first mention of Comey. "You are kidding. You are kidding."
Denied collusion allegations
While continuing to deny that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, White House officials maintained Wednesday that Comey’s firing would have no impact on the FBI investigation.
Still, there are those who worry that no matter how the investigation plays out, it could be advantage Russia.
“They’re trying to exploit whatever cultural fissures there are within a country,” a U.S. official told VOA on condition of anonymity when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s evolving strategy for the U.S. and its allies.
“The intensity is new. Some of the tools are new,” the official added. The pattern, however, is not.
“He will do anything to fracture traditional alliances that he sees as threatening to his power,” the official said.
And there are fears that every victory, no matter how slight, will only further embolden Putin and Russia.
Already, the U.S. National Security Agency has accused Russian-linked hackers of trying to sow confusion in France during its recent presidential election.
And NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers noted Tuesday that the U.S. was seeing “similar things” in Britain and Germany.
“The first objective was to sow discord and dissension, which they certainly did,” former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate panel Monday, when asked about Russian interference in the U.S. presidential elections.
“They're going to continue to do it,” Clapper added. “And why not? It proved successful.”