President Trump's intelligence community security blanket

President Trump's intelligence community security blanket
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE has created a dangerous relationship of convenience with the intelligence community that could undermine our institutions and expose us to foreign threats. 

As more information comes out about the airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, it is becoming all too clear that the president is using the intelligence community as a shield to defend his decision-making. 

Saturday morning, New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who covers ISIS and al Qaeda, tweeted: “I’ve had a chance to check in with sources, including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani. Here is what I’ve learned. According to them, the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is ‘razor thin.’”


Callimachi went on to say, “In fact the evidence pointing to that came as three discrete facts: a) A pattern of travel showing Suleimani was in Syria, Lebanon & Iraq to meet with Shia proxies known to have an offensive position to the US. (As one source said that’s just ‘business as usual’ for Suleimani).” Her reporting later became part of a Times story on the administration's decision to carry out this airstrike.

This is a far cry from Trump’s statement to reporters on Friday, when he defended the U.S. action, arguing that Soleimani was “planning a very major attack” against Americans and that “we took action to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, echoed this defense on a press briefing call when he referred to “extraordinarily sensitive” information that prompted the airstrike, though he wouldn’t give details. 

And Friday night on Fox News, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHong Kong police arrest pro-democracy media tycoon: aide Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran Trump puts trade back on 2020 agenda MORE once again used the “imminent attack” line to defend American actions. Taking it a step further, he argued that “the Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be.”

While it’s no secret that our relations with European partners have soured throughout the Trump presidency — and that when it comes to Iran, this particularly would be the case since we pulled out of the nuclear deal — the fact that European allies wouldn’t be sold on this mission raises eyebrows. 

In a climate of enhanced skepticism over military intervention — on both sides of the aisle — this particular action was never going to be applauded in all corners. No one defends Soleimani the man, but why strike now? A good reason has not been given, and hard-working reporters have been unable to find one. 


Furthermore, President Trump’s praise for the intelligence community puts his schizophrenic relationship with them on full display. Indeed, we have spent the entirety of Trump’s tenure listening to him bash the intelligence community, sometimes in favor of siding with our adversaries. This troubling trend actually began even before Trump was sworn in. 

A quick overview of Trump’s past commentary on intelligence officers includes comparing them to Nazis, maintaining that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation was a “witch hunt” carried out by “13 angry Democrats,” and his team painting decorated war veteran, Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanVindman describes 'campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation' by Trump, allies in op-ed Vindman marks 1 year since call that led to Trump's impeachment White House officials alleged Vindman created hostile work environment after impeachment testimony: report MORE, as being guilty of dual loyalty to Ukraine after he volunteered to testify in the House impeachment inquiry.

Some have fought back, such as former Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down MORE, who publicly rebuked the president after the 2018 Helsinki summit where the president said, during a news conference with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Not a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' MORE, that he took Putin’s word regarding allegations of election interference. In a public statement, Coats wrote: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

It could not be clearer that Trump treats the intelligence community like a textbook abuser: They’re only as good as his mood that day or his selfish interests.

At this critical time, where information is scant and we face the very real possibility of a conflict with Iran, we must stay vigilant on this issue. The president is not an honest broker when it comes to the intelligence community, a reality that could make us more vulnerable to foreign threats. There is no instance where this is more obvious than with Russia, a country that benefits from the president maintaining that they did not meddle in our 2016 election.

It is dangerous to our institutions and national security for the president to pick and choose when the intelligence community is a force for good. And it is especially dangerous to use “razor thin” information to buttress a major military action.  

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.