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Trump's CIA chief repeats discredited claim about Russia scandal

Two months ago, intelligence insiders feared CIA Director Mike Pompeo couldn't "resist the urge to be political." They were right to be concerned.
Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)
Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. 

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.

Those concerns seemed relevant anew yesterday.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo incorrectly asserted Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's interference campaign did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election."We conducted an election that had integrity," Pompeo, a former Republican member of Congress from Kansas, said during a public event in response to a question from NBC News. "And yes, the intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election."

As Rachel explained on the show last night, this is demonstrably wrong. We know this with certainty because the intelligence community's assessment has been publicly available for months, and it specifically said, "We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion."

After reporters began asking the CIA why its director publicly made a claim that was plainly false, the agency tried to walk Pompeo's comments back. "The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed," a CIA spokesperson said, "and the director did not intend to suggest that it had."

In other words, Pompeo did not intend to say what he said -- which happens to be in line with what Trump partisans have falsely claimed for months.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post yesterday, "This is another example of Pompeo politicizing intelligence," The unnamed former official added that an incident like this one "significantly undermines the intelligence community's credibility."

It may be tempting to think this was an isolated accident. Perhaps, the argument goes, Pompeo merely misspoke, and it's not worth making a fuss about a casual mistake.

The trouble with this defense is that yesterday wasn't an isolated incident. On the contrary, the Kansas Republican "has repeatedly played down Russia's interference in the 2016 election and demonstrated a willingness to engage in political skirmishes for President Trump."

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."

If intelligence professionals uncovered evidence that was politically damaging to the Trump White House, and it reached the CIA director's desk, how confident can the public be that Pompeo would behave responsibly?