New CIA director arrives to tense intel community

New CIA director arrives to tense intel community
© Greg Nash

Mike Pompeo has a tough task ahead.

Pompeo, who was confirmed on Monday as director of the CIA, is taking over an intelligence force that is wary of the new commander in chief, in part because he has blasted the agency’s work repeatedly.

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A visit from President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE over the weekend did little to calm the waters, as Trump spent more time commenting about the size of his inauguration crowd than he did talking about the CIA’s fallen heroes.  

Standing before a memorial wall honoring fallen officers, Trump received some applause and cheers from the roughly 400 staffers who had reportedly entered a raffle to be able to hear the president speak. 

It’s unclear how much of the applause came from rank-and-file officers and how much from campaign supporters in attendance. Senior leadership at the agency reportedly remained silent.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday downplayed any friction between the CIA and the president. He called talk of a rift at the agency a “myth” and noted attendees were “hooting and hollering” and gave Trump a standing ovation.

“That doesn’t sound like a huge feud. They were excited. They were clapping. They were cheering when he walked in,” he told reporters. “To see reports that made it sound like there was some fence-mending that needed to happen — that sure didn’t look that way when you walked in.”

But the performance drew fire from the CIA’s outgoing director, John Brennan, who said Trump “should be ashamed of himself.”

“Former CIA Director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Brennan’s former deputy chief of staff, Nick Shapiro, said in a statement.

The White House quickly fired back, with aide Kellyanne Conway calling Brennan a “partisan political hack” — echoing the president himself, who has treated criticism of his conduct toward the intelligence community as either fabricated or political.

Some Republicans are concerned about the early war of words with the intelligence community.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) warned that Trump’s speech, paired with a combative weekend statement from Spicer, is “derailing” the start of the new administration.

“The CIA speech I didn’t understand,” he told CNN. “You’re in front of the CIA, this hallowed ground, where it’s honoring people that have died on behalf of their country, and you barely mention it. I was disappointed in that.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer MORE (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, added that the focus on crowd sizes has been a “distraction.”

“To me, we’ve got a lot more serious things to deal with than crowd size,” he said. “But I am glad he went out there and that he spoke about his support for the intelligence community.”

The president during his remarks at the agency blamed the “dishonest media” for “[making] it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

Trump was lavish in his praise of the CIA, assuring more than 300 employees gathered in the lobby that he is “so behind you” and musing, “Probably everybody in this room voted for me.”

“I love you; I respect you. There’s nobody I respect more,” he said.

Critics say Trump’s remarks did little to soothe jangled nerves at the agency.

“[Trump] will need to do more than use the agency memorial as a backdrop if he wants to earn the respect of the men and women who provide the best intelligence in the world,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Trump asked Ukraine president to investigate Biden's son eight times in one phone call: reports Lawmakers say Zuckerberg has agreed to 'cooperate' with antitrust probe MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement blasting the 15-minute speech.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.), the Senate’s top Democrat, separately said the speech was part of a “bizarre” opening weekend for the Trump administration.

“The president quarreled over the size of the inaugural crowds, bragged about his election victory in a speech at CIA headquarters with a wall commemorating fallen American intelligence operatives behind him,” he said.

When Pompeo enters the Langley, Va., headquarters, he will be responsible for smoothing relations between the CIA and the White House.

The former Republican Kansas congressman walked a tightrope in his confirmation hearing earlier this month, avoiding criticizing the president-elect while assuring lawmakers that the agency won’t be affected by Trump’s treatment of it.

“I haven’t seen the low morale that you’ve described,” he said. “What I’ve seen, from the spirited warriors at the Central Intelligence Agency, is a desire to get out of the middle of this fight and continue to perform their function.”

Pompeo’s selection drew bipartisan support in the Senate, despite being delayed by a handful of Senate Democrats — led by Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Microsoft to provide free updates for voting systems running Windows 7 through 2020 Interior watchdog investigating political appointees' review of FOIA requests MORE (D-Ore.) — who had concerns about his stances on surveillance and waterboarding.

Senior Obama administration officials — including current National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers — have warned that Trump’s adversarial treatment of the agency could lead to mass departures from officials who no longer feel valued.

Trump’s criticism of the intelligence community dates back months. It reached new heights earlier this month, when he suggested the CIA was behind the leak of a dossier full of explosive and unconfirmed allegations about his ties to Russia. That accusation was seen as particularly insulting to career professionals, who pride themselves on being apolitical.

Trump also likened the leak to “something Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

Spicer sought to clarify Trump’s remarks on Monday, arguing the president wasn’t directly comparing CIA officials to Nazis.

“I think what he was talking about was the process, not the people,” he said. “That’s a very different thing.”