President Trump Pays A Fence Mending Visit To The CIA
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Days before his inauguration, President Trump compared U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazis. Complaining that the public had learned that Trump was briefed on claims that Russia had compromising information about him, Trump said, quote, "one last shot at me, are we living in Nazi Germany?" He later expanded upon that in a news conference. After his inauguration, the president visited the CIA and said he is now with them, quote, "a thousand percent."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The reason you're my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.
TRUMP: Right? 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 number-one stop - it is exactly the opposite.
INSKEEP: NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is in our studio. She's been speaking with members of the intelligence community, past and present. Good morning, Mary Louise.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, so he's not saying, I'm making up with the intelligence agencies. He's saying, I never had a problem with you to begin with.
KELLY: That's what he said. And that is false. President Trump is on record in statements, in tweets, in that news conference you just mentioned that he held as president-elect. And he is on the record ridiculing and attacking U.S. intelligence officials. So to suggest that the media made up this feud...
INSKEEP: His own statements.
KELLY: ...It's provably not true. In that same speech out of the CIA this weekend, Trump also falsely inflated the size of the crowd at his inauguration. In talking about the weather, he described that when he began to speak at his inauguration, the rain stopped immediately. And in fact, you could see water beating on the lapel of his coat. Now, does it matter whether it rained or not?
KELLY: Who cares? But it does matter to the CIA veterans, who I was reaching out to this weekend. It rankles because he made these untrue claims and of where he made them, in the lobby of the CIA.
INSKEEP: And not just any lobby - there's a wall of stars behind him as he was speaking. And those stars represent something.
KELLY: They represent CIA officers who have died in the line of duty. And it's interesting. One of the former intelligence officers who I reached this weekend said there's the stars. And those are sacred if you work at CIA. But this person said, remember what's on the opposite wall, what Trump was looking at as he spoke.
And I have crossed that lobby, Steve, many times on my way to interview officials who work there. And carved in the marble on the opposite wall is this. It's a quotation from the Bible. And it reads, "and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
INSKEEP: OK, so that's what the building says. Now, the former CIA director is also talking. What did John Brennan say?
KELLY: John Brennan, who led the CIA, he's very recently former. He was head of the CIA until last Friday at noon. And through an aide who put out a statement, he has said he is deeply saddened and angered at what Trump said. He called it a despicable display of self-aggrandizement. And he said Trump should be ashamed of himself.
INSKEEP: I want to ask about something we heard on that recording, Mary Louise. We heard people applaud the president for quite some time. And these are CIA officers. They're professionals. But who exactly was in there applauding?
KELLY: There were, we are told, about 400 CIA officers packed into that room. These are people who volunteered to come in on a Saturday on their day off. It is hard to gauge how much of the applause was coming from CIA versus White House aides who traveled out to Langley with the president.
INSKEEP: So how awkward is it that the new president has taken office - the new administration has come in - and there is still, so far as we know, an investigation of the president's ties to Russia?
KELLY: It is awkward. And the latest twist is The Wall Street Journal reporting this morning that Trump's national security adviser, Mike Flynn, is under a counter intelligence investigation because of suspected ties to Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating that very question.
So here - here is the question that another CIA veteran put to me after watching Trump's speech this weekend. This is Steve Hall. He was CIA chief of Russia operations. And he asked, what happens when the CIA collects a stellar piece of intelligence that maybe puts Vladimir Putin in a bad light? Steve Hall said, what happens when the CIA briefs Trump, and he wants to know the source? And Hall's quote directly to me was, how can you say, no, we don't trust you with the sourcing of that information? That is a live question today at Langley.
INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks very much.
KELLY: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.