'Is This a Manchurian Candidate?': Ex-FBI Agent Explains How Trump's Suspicious Behavior with Russia Has Continued Since the Summit

Top officials in the intelligence and defense community delivered a White House briefing Thursday intending to show resolve and commitment to countering the threat from Russia's efforts to undermine American Democracy. But one major voice was missing from the briefing — that of President Donald Trump.

As former special agent at the FBI Clint Watts argued on MSNBC Thursday afternoon, Trump's conspicuous absence from the briefing extends an ongoing pattern of suspicious behavior from the president regarding Russia. This behavior was on display after Trump held a private summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month and then proceeded to deliver an obsequious press conference with the authoritarian leader that stunned many observers.

Questions about this meeting have only multiplied since it took place, as no official readout about what the two leaders discussed has been released. And when appearing with the other top officials Thursday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said he "is not in a position" to talk about exactly what went on during the private meeting.

"[Trump] wanted it to be a secret meeting, it's still a secret meeting," said John Heilemann on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House." "Even from the people who should be at the highest level of government to know what happened. So that is an act of intent. What does one read from that act of intent that he is still keeping that secret from Dan Coats and others?"

"When I've talked to friends either in government or out of government, current Republicans who will always just vote for a Republican — that Helsinki press conference was like: 'Oh my God. Is this a Manchurian candidate?'" Watts said. "Everyone, I think, had doubts about it — totally dispelled it — but when you watch that press conference... everything that's been said about Trump, you start to say, 'What if this is true?' And so we're having this reaction today about election interference."

He continued: "He knows this is a mistake. And yet he won't talk about that press conference. He did not even communicate to DNI Coats that he was going to extend an invitation to Vladimir Putin to come to the United States. and then when Coats was onstage and shocked about that — as he should be because he should be the first person that's told about this! — he has to go back and essentially negotiate with the president to calm his anger, from what I understand."

Watts added that the situation we're in is a "crazy scenario."

"Even with all the pressure — I think a lot of that pressure is from Capitol Hill. I think it's from the institutions that Donald Trump is in charge of — even with all that pressure, he will not take the next step and say: "I'm going to be tough on Russia, and here's what I'm going to do,'" he said.

Watch the clip below:

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