Trump reverses course on intel chiefs

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A day after he lashed out at U.S. intelligence agency chiefs over their assessments of global threats, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course and said that he and the intelligence community “are all on the same page.”

Trump met with his director of national intelligence and other top security officials in the Oval Office Thursday and said afterward that they told him their testimony at a Senate hearing had been “mischaracterized” by the news media.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats had slammed the president for his comments disparaging Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and other top security officials.

The officials told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and that the Iran nuclear deal is working, contrary to what Trump has claimed.

The intelligence agency chiefs “said that they were totally misquoted and … it was taken out of context,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They said it was fake news.”

Coats and other officials presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. In a public report and testimony broadcast on C-SPAN, they warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.

Trump tweeted Thursday that he and the intelligence leaders “are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.” and that he values their service.

“Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!” he wrote.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that the intelligence officials were “courageous” in speaking “truth to power” by publicly contradicting Trump.

“One dismaying factor of it all is that the president just doesn’t seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him,” Pelosi said Thursday, calling Trump’s comments attacking the intelligence leaders “cause for concern.”

Trump said earlier that intelligence officials were wrong about North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State, which they said remains a terrorist and insurgent threat.

“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Pelosi said Trump’s comments were “stunning.”

“It’s important for the Republicans in Congress to recognize they have to weigh in with the president to say, ‘You can’t act without knowledge,’” Pelosi said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it was “past time” for U.S. intelligence officials to stage an intervention with Trump.

In a letter to Coats, Schumer called Trump’s criticism of intelligence agencies “extraordinarily inappropriate” and said it could undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to protect Americans.

Schumer urged Coats and other officials to “educate” Trump about the facts and raw intelligence underlying threat assessments so the administration can speak “with a unified and accurate voice about national security threats.”

Asked about his tweets earlier Thursday, Trump did not back away from questioning the assessment by Coats and Haspel.

“I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I’m right, but time will prove that, time will prove me right probably,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think Iran is a threat. I think I did a great thing when I terminated the ridiculous Iran nuclear deal. It was a horrible one-sided deal.”

Speaking about intelligence agencies generally, Trump added: “I have great respect for a lot people but I don’t always agree with everybody.”

At a hearing Tuesday, Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons.

Trump later insisted on Twitter that the U.S. relationship with North Korea “is the best it has ever been.” He pointed to the North’s halt in nuclear and missile tests, the return of some U.S. service members’ remains and the release of detained Americans as signs of progress.

U.S. intelligence agencies also said Iran continues to work with other parties to the nuclear deal it reached with the U.S. and other world powers. In doing so, they said, Iran has at least temporarily lessened the nuclear threat. In May 2018, Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord, which he said would not deter Iran.

“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “They are wrong!”


Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.


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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Pompeo: From top spy to top diplomat for America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks during a press conference with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, at the Royal Terminal of King Khaled airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, April 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Mike Pompeo has swapped the no-profile, cloak-and-dagger world of covert espionage for the life of a buttoned-down diplomat, representing the public face of the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

Making his first overseas trip as secretary of state, the ex-CIA chief traded in a small, unmarked government jet, secret overseas voyages and hush-hush meetings with spy chiefs and the occasional rogue world leader for a decidedly conspicuous U.S. Air Force 757 with “United States of America” emblazoned across its fuselage, a traveling press corps and frequent public appearances.

Pompeo has told aides that he recognizes the importance of public diplomacy and interacting with journalists, something his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, appeared to have never fully accepted and largely shunned until his final months in office.

Just a month ago, Pompeo in his previous job was on a highly classified mission to North Korea where he met with North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un to gauge prospects for what would be a historic summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.

But unlike that trip, which remained a mystery to much of the world until just last week, his maiden trip as secretary of state was replete with televised welcome ceremonies, live-streamed photo ops and well-attended media events.

Departing Washington less than three hours after he was confirmed by the Senate and sworn-in Thursday by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a fellow Italian-American, Pompeo rushed to Joint Base Andrews. There, he hopped on the plane and flew overnight to Brussels, arriving before dawn for a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

“It’s never good to be late on your first day of work, and so after being sworn in I hustled here,” he joked at NATO headquarters.

From Belgium, Pompeo kept up a relentless pace, stopping in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.

“I haven’t been to my office yet,” he quipped on Sunday after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on only his third full day on the job — a day that began in Saudi Arabia and ended in Jordan to complete a rare one-day trifecta.

Pompeo won’t make his first appearance at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in Washington, D.C., until Tuesday when he will speak to employees eager to hear his plans to lead the agency, which was badly demoralized during the brief tenure of Tillerson, unceremoniously fired by Trump last month.

Tillerson was highly unpopular at the department, where he had endorsed major budget and staffing cuts and was accused of driving experienced diplomats out of the foreign service and leaving dozens of top positions empty. The State Department’s influence as a federal institution also suffered due to Tillerson’s less-than-stellar relationship with Trump.

On his maiden trip, Pompeo made clear his intention was to reverse that trend, to quickly fill vacant posts and to use his close ties with the president to restore the department’s relevance in Washington.

“The State Department will be at the front and center of every foreign policy decision in support of the president’s agenda,” he told embassy staffers in the Saudi capital on Sunday before heading to Israel.

In Brussels on Friday, he said after meeting embassy staffers that “they may have been demoralized, but they seemed in good spirits.”

“They are hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back, that we will be out doing the things that they came onboard at the State Department to do: to be professional, to deliver diplomacy, American diplomacy, around the world,” he told reporters. “That’s my mission set, to build that esprit and get the team on the field.”

Pompeo said he planned to restore a full complement of reporters on his plane, which had been severely limited by Tillerson and his top aides, who had also refused to allow a State Department spokesperson to travel with him.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert was aboard the plane for Pompeo’s trip to Europe and the Middle East, as were eight journalists — the most in more than a year of secretary of state travel.

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