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Trump takes fresh aim at his own country's intelligence community

What Trump says about his own country's intelligence community matters, but what he intends to do to those agencies matters far more.
A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Donald Trump yesterday denied he clashed with Dan Coats, the outgoing director of national intelligence, insisting that the two are friends. The president added, however, "Dan made statements and they were a little confused."

Yes, Donald Trump, of all people, feels justified in complaining about those he deems "confused" about intelligence matters.

But as part of the same brief Q&A with reporters yesterday afternoon, the president also tried to defend Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Trump's controversial choice to succeed Coats as DNI.

Returning to the White House from an appearance in Virginia, Trump on Tuesday said Ratcliffe "is going to do an incredible job, if he gets approved" by the Senate."I think we need somebody like that in there," he continued. "We need somebody strong that can rein it in. Because, as I think you've all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They have run amok."

Keep in mind, Ratcliffe was on Fox News as recently as Sunday, making the case that there was a criminal conspiracy involving U.S. officials investigating the Russia scandal. "[I]t does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration," the far-right congressman said, pointing to "crimes" that don't exist in reality. Ratcliffe, naturally, offered no proof and pointed to nothing in the public record that would bolster his provocative claims.

When Trump says "we need somebody like" the Texas Republican overseeing the entire United States intelligence community, this is likely what the president is referring to: "somebody" who'll make reckless allegations of criminal wrongdoing on Fox News without evidence.

But just as jarring is Trump's belief that his own country's intelligence agencies have "run amok."

Alas, this isn't new. The Republican has spent much of the last few years ignoring, criticizing, and at times even mocking the U.S. intelligence community. Yesterday, Trump took the offensive a little further.

But as problematic as it is to see an American president take public steps to undermine confidence in the country's intelligence professionals, the Ratcliffe nomination makes clear that Trump is doing more than just insult U.S. agencies.

What the president says about the intelligence community matters, but what he intends to do to those agencies matters far more. And by choosing an inexperienced far-right congressman to serve as the nation's top intelligence official, Trump is trying to politicize and corrupt a part of his administration that should remain free of his usual nonsense.

Indeed, the three words that stood out yesterday were "rein it in." The president was supposed to find someone to oversee the intelligence community, but he instead looked for someone who'll control it in a way Trump will find politically satisfying.

Senate Republicans don't have to go along with this scheme.