Donald Trump's years-long affinity for conspiracy theories has long alarmed his critics, raising questions about his judgment and ability to understand evidence. Yesterday's reporting, however, takes those questions to a very different level.
At the urging of President Donald Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who advocates a fringe theory that the hack of the Democrats during the election was an inside job and not the work of Russian intelligence, the former official told NBC News."He's trying to find some factual evidence," said Bill Binney, a former code-breaker at the National Security Agency.Binney left the agency in 2000 and has become a self-styled whistleblower, making unsupported claims that the NSA is collecting and storing nearly every U.S. communication. His meeting with Pompeo was first reported by The Intercept, an internet news site.
NBC News confirmed with Binney, a frequent guest on Fox News and the Kremlin's RT, that he met with the CIA director, and Pompeo told him that he took the meeting at the urging of the president.
A CNN reporter added that the Binney-Pompeo chat lasted about a half-hour, and "many inside the [CIA] were uncomfortable with the meeting."
There's a very good reason for that. As Pompeo and everyone else in the U.S. intelligence community already knows, Russian agents, not DNC officials, were responsible for the attack on the American elections last year. It might make Trump feel better to believe nonsense -- for a variety of reasons, he seems a little too eager to exonerate Russia from any wrongdoing -- but reality is stubborn.
Taking this a step further, though, if the president embraced conspiratorial silliness and used it to publish strange tweets, it would merely be annoying. The fact that Trump told the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to have a conversation with someone peddling a discredited conspiracy theory is something else entirely.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Pompeo's proper response should've been, "No thanks, I have actual work to do."
Except that didn't happen, in part because the CIA director appears to see himself as an extension of Trump's operation. The New York Times reported in early August that Donald Trump’s CIA chief, former Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, is “perhaps the most openly political spy chief in a generation.” Soon after, the Washington Post added that some CIA officials aren’t sure they can fully trust their own CIA director because of his apparent loyalties to his ally in the Oval Office.
One CIA official said over the summer, “People have to watch him. It’s almost as if he can’t resist the impulse to be political.”
As for Trump's alarming governing vision, the amateur president continues to see key agencies as there to do his bidding. Trump wants the Justice Department, for example, to investigate his political enemies. He expects the director of the FBI to pledge his "loyalty" to the White House. And he has no qualms about instructing the CIA to have a chat with a conspiracy theorist peddling discredited claims regarding the Russia scandal.
Whether Trump understands this or not, these agencies do not exist to advance the president's political agenda. When Richard Nixon forgot this, he was forced to resign in disgrace.