President Trump is reigniting his feud with the intelligence community, criticizing it for leaks that led to his decision to oust Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
Trump called Flynn a “wonderful man” and doubled down on his condemnation of the leaks from law enforcement and spy agencies that revealed Flynn misled senior officials in the White House about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador.
“People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem: Pruitt violating anti-campaigning law with GOP fundraiser Michael Flynn’s troubles mount Writer who pushed 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory says he'll attend WH briefing MORE,” he continued.
Trump’s comments followed a string of tweets Wednesday morning, in which he sought to shift attention from the contents of Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s U.S. envoy toward the leaking of classified information.
“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” he tweeted.
Trump’s decision to pin the blame for Flynn’s fall on spy agencies raises the stakes on his long-running dispute with the intelligence community.
And it comes as those same agencies probe links between Russia and several former Trump campaign officials and advisers, adding to the tumult surrounding the White House during the president’s first month in power.
Reports from The New York Times and CNN have asserted that intercepted phone calls and phone records showed that several Trump allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, were frequently in contact with Russian intelligence operatives.
There is no evidence that those officials collaborated with Russia on its hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign officials. Manafort has denied knowingly communicating with Russian intelligence.
Trump has not commented personally on the reports. He ignored shouted questions about them after his news conference with Netanyahu.
Hours later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to tamp down the significance of the reports, noting the investigation was first revealed months ago.
“I have yet to hear anything new in that story, or whatever you want to call it, that came out last night that wasn’t reported last summer,” he told reporters.
Trump lambasted the “fake media” for separate reports based on leaks regarding Flynn’s talks with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But when asked what was fake about those reports, Spicer said, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Flynn’s sudden exit just 24 days into Trump’s presidency has added new urgency to a separate Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (R-Fla.), who is dining with Trump at the White House Wednesday night, told reporters he wants Flynn to testify before the panel about the probe.
Top lawmakers have said Trump’s focus on intelligence leaks is only adding to the confusion surrounding his team’s Russia ties.
“Somehow, the media is responsible for treating Flynn unfairly, but the president was the one who fired him,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffOvernight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record Kaine, Schiff press Trump on legal justification for Syria strike Schiff to Trump: Taxpayers will 'bear the brunt of your broken promises' MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC.
“He was OK with Flynn being dishonest,” he continued. “He wasn’t even going to correct the record for the public until this was leaked to The Washington Post. And I suppose what bothers him is being forced to act.”
Trump’s reaction to Flynn’s exit also appeared to contradict the account of his top spokesman, who said Tuesday that the president demanded the aide’s resignation because of an “eroding level of trust” over his conversations with Russia.
But Spicer said there was no difference between his comments and Trump’s.
“I don’t think there’s any contradiction there,” he said. “There’s a clear difference between [Flynn’s] commitment to caring about this country and the trust the president had [in him] to do the job.”
Trump’s decision to up his feud with the intelligence community isn’t exactly surprising. Before his inauguration, Trump repeatedly attacked spy agencies for their leaks about Russian meddling in the presidential election.
“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Trump tweeted last month. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
Those attacks prompted concerns of a major rift that could hamper his ability to carry out military campaigns against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other crises overseas.
Trump tried to reset the relationship one day after he was sworn in, when he traveled to the CIA and told staff, “I am with you 1,000 percent.”
But instead of reckoning with his past statements, he blamed the media for spreading the notion of his split with the intelligence community.
“I have a running war with the media,” he said. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you’re the No. 1 stop is exactly the opposite.”