The intelligence community told Trump there are no dangerous Middle Easterners “mixed in” among migrants from Honduras, but he chooses to believe it anyway. Confronted with information about North Korea building up new missile sites, the president said, “Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. I don’t believe that. I don’t. And, you know, could be.”
And then there’s the latest intelligence about Saudi Arabia. NBC News reported:
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a person briefed on the CIA’s assessment. […]
The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the matter, first reported the assessment, stating that the CIA made its conclusion with “high confidence.” Khashoggi, a U.S. resident from Saudi Arabia, was a Washington Post opinion contributor critical of the crown prince’s regime.
The Washington Post’s report added that Trump has been aware of the evidence pointing to Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of an American journalist, but the Republican “remains skeptical,” and has “looked for ways to avoid pinning the blame on Mohammed.”
The article added, “The president’s skepticism has put him at odds with the findings of the CIA and senior intelligence officials.”
Trump shared his doubts with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who asked the president whether Mohammed bin Salman lied to him about the slaying. “I don’t know,” Trump replied. “You know, who can really know?”
Saudis say one thing; the CIA says the opposite. Trump could side with his own country’s intelligence assessment, but he doesn’t want to – so he doesn’t.
This helps explain, at least in part, why intelligence officials seemed eager to leak the CIA’s findings to major news organizations late last week: intelligence professionals are obviously aware of Trump’s reluctance to accept the facts, and they probably hope getting the truth to the public will increase the political pressure on the White House.
Indeed, as the president pushed back against U.S. intelligence on Saudi Arabia, the top White House official on U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, Kirsten Fontenrose, resigned on Friday night. The New York Times reported that the reasons for her departure were “murky,” though Fontenrose had “pushed for tough measures against the Saudi government.”
But while some of the details surrounding that resignation remain unclear, what is clear is that Trump doesn’t want to listen to officials in his own administration about Saudi Arabia. The intelligence is at odds with what the president wants to believe, and in this dynamic, that means the intelligence will be ignored.
What’s more, it’s not just a matter of belief. As Rachel explained on Friday’s show, Trump is looking for ways to placate Turkey – where Khashoggi was killed – as a way of calming Turkish officials down about the murder that happened in their country.
In other words, Trump isn’t just eager to ignore his own country’s intelligence, he’s also taking steps behind the scenes to make the whole controversy go away.