North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella...
Saul Loeb

Why would Trump oppose intelligence gathering on North Korea?

Two years ago, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed in a Malaysian airport. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a possible motive: the dictator’s half-brother “was a Central Intelligence Agency source who met on several occasions with agency operatives.”

It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked Donald Trump yesterday about his diplomatic efforts with the rogue nuclear state. The Republican’s response was unexpected:

“…I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un, and I think the relationship is very well. But I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA, with respect to his brother, or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.”

Trump went on and on for a while, gushing about the “warmth” of the dictator’s latest personal correspondence, before being asked to clarify his concerns about the CIA and Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.

The Republican added, “I know this: That the relationship is such that that wouldn’t happen under my auspices.”

The obvious question is, why not?

I realize Trump has reached the curious point at which he believes North Korea’s brutal dictator is his genuine, personal friend. As truly bizarre as the circumstances appear, the American president has said – publicly and on the record – that he and Kim Jong Un “fell in love.”

But the fact remains that North Korea is a dangerous, rogue nuclear state. The United States’ interest in learning everything possible about developments in the secretive country should be painfully obvious, even to Trump, so the CIA’s interest in Kim Jong Un’s half-brother isn’t exactly surprising.

And yet, there was the Republican yesterday, suggesting it was somehow impolite for American intelligence professionals to turn to Kim Jong Nam as a source for information. Trump added that it’s something he wouldn’t allow.

It necessarily leads to some awkward questions: is the current American president opposed to intelligence gathering about North Korea? Has he made any kind of private commitments to his friend in Pyongyang not to engage in any espionage?

Postscript: Trump added yesterday that Kim Jong Un “kept his word.” The Trump administration clearly disagrees.