Trump: What feud? I love intelligence community

New US president calls months-long public battle an invention of news media

US President Donald Trump visits the CIA in Langley, Virginia, where he pledges support for the intelligence agency after what has been a rocky transition.
"I am with you 1,000 per cent," Mr Trump told the intelligence community during a visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, last Saturday.
"I am with you 1,000 per cent," Mr Trump told the intelligence community during a visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, last Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • For months, US President Donald Trump fought a running public battle with the intelligence community, attacking it as ineffective and incompetent.

After the election, he went so far as to suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was the source of leaks against him.

But during his visit to the CIA's headquarters in Virginia on his first full day as president last Saturday, he said he loved the intelligence community and that the news media had invented the entire feud.

"There's nobody I respect more," he said. "I am with you 1,000 per cent."

Standing in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, engraved with stars representing fallen employees, Mr Trump went even further, saying he was sure that most of the 400 people in the room had voted for him. "We're all on the same wavelength," he said.

He blamed previous administrations for holding the intelligence community back from defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group and finishing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Maybe sometimes you haven't gotten the backing you wanted," he said. "You're going to get so much backing."

It is not clear whether Mr Trump's visit did much to repair the morale of an agency that strives to avoid any hints of partisanship and was unnerved by his repeated charges that it was trying to damage him.

CIA chief John Brennan was "deeply saddened and angered at Trump's despicable display of self- aggrandisement in front of CIA's Memorial Wall of Agency heroes", Mr Brennan's former spokesman, Mr Nick Shapiro, said on Twitter.

"While standing in front of the stars representing CIA personnel who lost their lives in the service of their country - hallowed ground - Trump gave little more than a perfunctory acknowledgement of their service and sacrifice," Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "He will need to do more than use the agency memorial as a backdrop if he wants to earn the respect of the men and women who provide the best intelligence in the world."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer rebutted that view, telling reporters last Saturday that Mr Trump "delivered a powerful and emphatic message" and that CIA employees were "ecstatic" that he was the new commander-in-chief.

At the CIA building, Mr Trump said his feud with the intelligence community was all a made-up controversy - fake news.

Accompanied by National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his nominee to lead the CIA, Mr Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump said the media "are among the most dishonest people on earth".

"And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. The reason you're the No. 1 stop is exactly the opposite."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Trump: What feud? I love intelligence community'. Subscribe