The Current

Trump debts make U.S. 'vulnerable' to Russian influence ahead of election, says former FBI deputy

The former deputy of the FBI's counterintelligence division says U.S. President Donald Trump’s debts are compromising his ability to act in the national interest and making him vulnerable to foreign interference.

Peter Strzok is author of the new book Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump

Peter Strzok, former deputy of the FBI's counterintelligence division, says foreign actors can use Donald Trump's financial vulnerabilities as leverage to influence his behaviour. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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The former deputy of the FBI's counterintelligence division says U.S. President Donald Trump's debts are compromising his ability to act in the national interest and making him vulnerable to foreign interference.

"Sadly for President Trump, he manifests vulnerabilities … particularly in the financial realm. And it's certainly backed up by the New York Times data," said Peter Strzok, author of the new book Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump.

"He has any number of things out there, which are hidden, and because [they are] hidden and [have] the potential to embarrass him, can be used as leverage by any competent foreign intelligence service to influence his actions."

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an in-depth report on the U.S. president's finances, showing he owes more than $400 million in debts to unknown creditors — debts that are coming due over the next few years. The report also found Trump or his companies paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — much more than what he's paid in federal income tax — to several foreign countries.

Trump has denied the report, calling it "fake news" and saying he has paid millions in taxes and has little debt. 

The U.S. president has denied an in-depth New York Times report about his finances and debts, calling it 'fake news.' (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the revelations are a national security issue, and Strzok agrees.

"It is causing him to take actions which are placing his interests ahead of those of the United States," Strzok told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"Countries like Russia are certainly very adept at exploiting through their intelligence services, to get him to make decisions which are not only not in the U.S. national interest, but are very much in Russia's national interest.

"And that's deeply concerning."

Counterintelligence concerns align

Strzok could not speak to information he has come across during his investigations. 

However, he said the New York Times article, the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and a recent bipartisan Senate intel committee report lay out a "broad swath of counterintelligence concerns" consistent with information he's seen that is not public.

Strzok helped work on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but the FBI fired him after it discovered he sent private text messages that were critical of Trump to a colleague. Trump supporters say the texts show the Mueller investigation was tainted by political bias.

Strzok is now suing the FBI for firing him, and argued that his dismissal "was illegal based on improper political considerations." 

The U.S. presidential election is set for Nov. 3. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

With the presidential election just over a month away now, Strzok said he fears the U.S. "is an extraordinarily ripe environment for Russian mischief."

That's because the domestic environment in the United States is "far worse" than in 2016. And at the end of the day, Strzok said, what Russia wants is for Americans to be divided among themselves, and for the U.S. to withdraw from the global environment so it no longer supports nascent democracies.

"We clearly knew that the Russians were very active in the 2016 elections," he said.

"But they're still coming at us. They're doing it in a very robust, broad manner. And I think we're very vulnerable, certainly, going into November."


Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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