The news on Friday night was a bombshell: The CIA not only believes Russia interfered directly in America's presidential election, the foreign adversary did so because Vladimir Putin's government hoped to put Donald Trump in the White House.Trump's first instinct wasn't to deny the accuracy of the reporting, but rather, to attack the CIA
: "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." It was the latest in a lengthy series of instances in which Trump has questioned the integrity and the professionalism of U.S. intelligence agencies -- a pattern that began months before
Election Day.On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway insisted that Trump "respects the intelligence community." Around the same time, Reince Pribus added that Trump "trusts the CIA." Intelligence officials themselves, however, don't appreciate
the president-elect's "slap in the face."
[The president-elect's latest] comment, like others that Trump made during the campaign, "is contrary to all that is sacred to national security professionals who work day and night to protect this country," a U.S. intelligence official told NBC News.The official called it "concerning" that the president-elect has chosen to "impugn the integrity of U.S. intelligence officials" by disputing professional intelligence judgments as false or politically partisan.
To be sure, plenty of incoming presidents, in both parties, have taken issue with intelligence agencies in years past. Truman and Nixon are known to have clashed with the intel community quite a bit.But we've never seen a public feud in which a president-elect openly mocked intelligence officials and questioned whether U.S. agencies are trustworthy -- siding instead with Russia.At the Republican National Convention in July, CNBC's John Harwood asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the Senate's most far-right hawks, if Trump is friendlier with Putin's government than he should be."Vladimir Putin was a KGB spy and he never got over that," Cotton replied
. "He does not have America's best interests at heart and he does not have any American interests at heart. I suspect, after this week, when Donald Trump is the nominee and he begins to receive classified briefings ... he may have a different perspective on Vladimir Putin."It was a nice idea, but the opposite happened: Trump received classified briefings from U.S. intelligence agencies and concluded that information from American officials about Putin was not to be trusted.This is in no way healthy to our system of government. As the Washington Post
's Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, wrote
...Trump's blanket attack on the intelligence community for incompetence -- as though he were still going after 'Little Marco' or 'Lyin' Ted' -- is an insanely dangerous antic that materially undermines American security.Given the extraordinary range of threats faced by the United States -- Chinese provocations in the South China Sea, Russian attempts to dominate neighboring countries, North Korea's progress toward nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach California -- a mutual trust between the president and American intelligence services is essential. That relationship has already been seriously damaged.
Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and CIA, had a related piece
this morning, raising practical concerns about the already deteriorating relationship between Donald Trump and the intelligence community.As far as the public interest is concerned, no good will come of this.