Columbia: Donald Trump suffered more blows to his presidential campaign Friday when a CIA ex-director accused him of being an "unwitting agent" of Russia`s Vladimir Putin, and the billionaire acknowledged erring about seeing cash transferred to Iran.
Trump`s drive for the White House showed no signs of stopping the hemorrhaging after a brutal week of setbacks, with a new poll showing him vulnerable in November`s election in Georgia, a traditional Republican stronghold.
Despite the stumbles, including Trump`s refusal to back down in a confrontation with the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in action in Iraq, his campaign chairman Paul Manafort told Fox News it has been "an improving week."
But the latest setback came in the form of harsh criticism by Michael Morell, a 33-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served presidents of both parties and then helmed the agency in 2011.
"On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton," he wrote in a New York Times column, adding that Trump "may well pose a threat to our national security."
Morell said that as Russia`s president, "Putin played upon Mr. Trump`s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated."
Trump has praised Putin as a great leader, and taken policy positions "consistent with Russian, not American, interests" including endorsing Russian espionage against US figures like Clinton and greenlighting a possible Russian invasion of Baltic states, Morell said.
"In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation," he added.
Trump has also admitted he wrongly claimed to have seen secret Iranian footage of $400 million in hard currency being delivered to Tehran as payment for the release of US prisoners.
Trump raised eyebrows this week when he made that assertion and gave many details of what he said he saw in the film.
"Remember this: Iran -- I don`t think you heard this anywhere but here -- Iran provided all of that footage, the tape of taking that money off the airplane," Trump said Wednesday at a rally in Florida. "Right?"
Early Friday, Trump made a rare backtrack.
"The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!" Trump tweeted.
Trump`s campaign has insisted that the money was "a payment for hostages" held in Iran who were released in January.
The White House says it was returning cash from an unfulfilled 1970s Iranian military order.
"We do not pay ransom for hostages," President Barack Obama told reporters Thursday.Trump may try to help right the ship with a campaign appearance later Friday in Wisconsin, the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom the brash real estate mogul this week refused to endorse for his congressional re-election bid.
Ryan warned on Thursday that Trump has had a "strange run" since formally earning the nomination last month, and that it was "distressing" that the campaign was sidetracked instead of going after his Democratic rival Clinton.
Manafort insisted the party was "united" despite evidence to the contrary.
"Do we agree on everything? No," he acknowledged.
"Mr. Trump is an outsider" and not a traditional politician, Manafort added. "So his relationships with the leadership of the party are not as deep and long as traditionally it would be with the Republican nominee."As the nation`s presidential contenders, Trump and Clinton will soon begin receiving intelligence briefings from US officials, and Obama warned the impulsive Republican to keep classified information under wraps.
"They have been told these are classified briefings and if they want to be president, they`ve got to start acting like president," Obama said.
"And that means being able to, you know, receive these briefings and not spread them around."
Polls show Clinton opening up substantial leads over Trump following last week`s Democratic National Convention.
A McClatchy-Marist poll released Thursday showed Clinton surging to a 15-point advantage, 48 percent to 33 percent, a dramatic increase over her three-point lead last month.
In Georgia, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1996, Clinton leads by four points, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution poll Friday.