Donald Trump was ‘recruited by Vladimir Putin as unwitting agent of Russia’

A former top CIA official has attacked Donald Trump as a danger to America’s national security, saying president Vladimir Putin had made the Republican presidential candidate an “unwitting agent” of Russia.

Putin had flattered Trump into supporting positions favourable to Russia, Michael Morell, a long-time CIA officer and former deputy director of the agency, said in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

“In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” Morell said, in an article in which he endorsed Trump’s rival in the November 8 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Morell did not provide evidence for his assertion, but he said Putin had used skills from his past as an intelligence officer to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an individual.

“That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr Putin played upon Mr Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr Putin had calculated,” Morell wrote.

Trump’s campaign dismissed Morell’s criticism, linking the ex-CIA officer to the Obama administration’s public response after the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

“Count how many reporters will tweet today that Michael Morell lied for #CrookedHillary to cover up Benghazi,” Trump’s campaign said on Twitter.

The incident, in which the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed, occurred while Clinton was secretary of state, and Republicans have long criticised her handling of the attack and its aftermath.

Critics say administration officials tried to play down the role of Islamist militants in the attacks. Morell approved talking points after the incident. US officials have said any reference to militants taking part was initially dropped for classification reasons.

Morell is currently affiliated with Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting firm with ties to senior Democrats with national security expertise, including former defence secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta and former top Clinton aide Philippe Reines.

Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, dismissed Morell’s comments, saying that “standing up to Russian aggression is going to be really different under a Trump-Pence administration.”

“Morell’s article, in which he also said Trump had undermined US security with his campaign proposal to combat terrorism by imposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, added to questions raised by some national security experts about the New York businessman’s qualifications to be president.

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