White House hopes to derail Congress' threat assessment briefing

Intelligence officials hope to cancel public hearings on security threats to avoid triggering a president prone to tantrums.
Ceremonial Swearing-In Of Leon Panetta Is Held At CIA Headquarters
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By Steve Benen

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is responsible for producing an annual report on global security threats, which is soon followed by a congressional hearing in which top security officials brief lawmakers on the report's findings. In theory, it need not be especially political or partisan.

But in practice, it's a different story. A year ago, then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was joined by FBI Director Chris Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel for a Senate hearing in which they completely contradicted the president's position on a wide range of key issues, including Iran, North Korea, Russia, border security, and climate change. It quickly became clear that when it came to global threats, Trump and his national security team had very little in common.

As regular readers may recall, that's when things got a little weird. The president's initial reaction was to mock U.S. intelligence professionals, calling them “passive,” “naïve,” and in need of additional schooling. Trump kept the offensive going, suggesting he lacked confidence in the information he received from Haspel and Coats. Soon after, the president reversed course and boasted that everyone on his team actually agrees with him, and the whole mess was the media's fault.

A year later, it's time for the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment to be released again, to be followed by another Capitol Hill hearing. Politico reported that administration officials have a plan, however, to prevent last year's fiasco from happening again.

The U.S. intelligence community is trying to persuade House and Senate lawmakers to drop the public portion of an annual briefing on the globe's greatest security threats — a move compelled by last year's session that provoked an angry outburst from President Donald Trump, multiple sources told POLITICO.

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the larger clandestine community, don't want agency chiefs to be seen on-camera as disagreeing with the president on big issues such as Iran, Russia or North Korea, according to three people familiar with preliminary negotiations over what's known as the Worldwide Threats hearing.

It's worth pausing to appreciate the absurdity of the circumstances.

If the congressional intelligence committees hold public hearings on global threat assessments, the president's national security team will tell lawmakers the truth. But in the process, they'll also contradict Trump's strange and baseless beliefs, which will infuriate the president.

The solution, then, isn't to have a president who's comfortable with reality. The solution intelligence officials prefer is to scrap the hearings that would trigger the president prone to tantrums.

On MSNBC yesterday, Andrea Mitchell confirmed the reporting, adding, "This is a signal moment."

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