Donald Trump has maintained an antagonistic posture toward American intelligence agencies since before he was elected, and it’s become an unsettling staple of his presidency. This week, however, the Republican appears determined to make matters worse.
The Senate heard this week from the top members of Trump’s national security team – including the directors of the FBI and the CIA, both of whom were chosen by this president, as well as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats – and the result was a bizarre dynamic. Trump’s team took positions that were wholly at odds with the president on everything from Iran to North Korea, Russia to the U.S./Mexico border.
These were not subtle differences over trivial details. At times these officials seemed to be serving in an entirely different administration from Trump.
The president took aim at his own team yesterday, calling U.S. intelligence professionals “passive,” “naïve,” and in need of additional schooling. Today, he kept the offensive going during a brief Q&A with reporters in the Oval Office.
Q: Do you have confidence with [CIA Director] Gina Haspel and [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats to give you advice?
TRUMP: No, I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I’m right. But time will prove that. Time will prove me right, probably.
As Politico’s report on the comments added, “Trump has set a new precedent for publicly denouncing his own intelligence community.”
And while that’s extraordinary in its own right, it raises a related question about where, exactly, the Republican president is getting his information.
The CIA director and the director of National Intelligence routinely present Trump with the most reliable information they have. The president, as of this morning, said he doesn’t necessarily have confidence in their work, and he disagrees with “certain” conclusions they’ve drawn.
But it’s worth digging further. Why does he disagree with his own intelligence chiefs? On what basis is he rejecting their findings?
Is this a situation in which Trump trusts his “gut” assumptions over the facts? Is he guided by what he thinks he saw reported by conservative news outlets? Or is there some other entity proving him with intelligence he finds more compelling?