President Donald Trump in his first official visit to a federal agency since the inauguration went to CIA headquarters in Virginia today where he assured the 400 or so CIA senior leadership and staff in attendance that he supports them "a thousand percent.”
"Very, very few people could do the job you people do, and I want to just let you know, I am so behind you," Trump said. "I know maybe sometimes you haven't gotten the backing that you've wanted, and you're going to get so much backing.”
Trump was accompanied to the meeting by his nominee to head the agency, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo; his national security adviser, Gen. Mike Flynn; and Vice President Mike Pence.
“I believe that this group is going to be one of the most important groups in this country toward making us safe, toward making us winners again, toward ending all of the problems,” Trump said to the assembled group.
Standing in front of the CIA Memorial Wall commemorating those who lost their lives in service to the agency, Trump’s speech veered at times onto the topics of press coverage of his inaugural speech and his electoral success, similar themes as in his campaign speeches.
The president’s visit comes in the wake of a recent war of words between Trump and intelligence officials over the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia used hacking to interfere with the U.S. presidential election and to help elect Trump.
However, Trump said today that any notion of disagreements between him and the intelligence community was due to false portrayals by the media.
“I can only say that I am with you a thousand percent, and the reason you're my first stop is, that as you know, I have a running war with the media,” Trump said. “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 number one stop is exactly the opposite.”
While still president-elect, Trump went so far as to publicly suggest in a tweet last weekend that John Brennan, then-head of the CIA, was involved in leaking an unverified dossier alleging that Russia holds compromising information on Trump. He has also forcefully denounced the unverified allegations in the dossier as false.
Trump’s tweet about Brennan came after the then-CIA chief said in Fox News interview on Jan. 15 that Trump “does not fully” understand the threat of Russia and cautioned Trump to be “very disciplined” in what he posts to his Twitter. Later that day, in response to Brennan's interview, Trump pointed the finger at Brennan, asking on Twitter: "Was this the leaker of Fake News?"
Trump later said in a Fox News interview on Jan. 18 that he accepted Brennan’s assertion that he was not responsible for the leak of the unverified dossier.
But, the new president's harsh views of the intelligence community go further back.
When on Dec. 9 the Washington Post reported that the CIA said the Russians had directed computer hacking during the U.S. election to help Trump win, the Trump transition team released a statement slamming the spy agency -- "these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Trump's nominee for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, however, expressed a different view during his recent Senate confirmation hearing, telling the Senate Intelligence Committee it was "pretty clear" Russia was behind the hacks.
"It's pretty clear about what took place, about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and have an impact on American democracy," Rep. Mike Pompeo said last week. "It is something that America needs to take seriously."
And, Trump himself acknowledged in a press conference Jan. 11 that Russia was probably behind the election hacking. "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," Trump said.
Trump praised Pompeo today, “I met him and I said, ‘He is so good.’ Number one in his class at West Point. I know a lot about West Point, and I'm a person that very strongly believes in academics.”