On his first full day in office, President Donald Trump traveled to the headquarters of the CIA, where he delivered a blistering attack on the media, lied about the size of his inaugural crowds, toyed with war crimes, and hinted at loosening restraints on U.S. forces fighting Islamist terror groups.
Trump said he chose to make a visit to the CIA his first public event because the media had created the false impression that Trump was in a “feud” with U.S. intelligence agencies. On Saturday, Trump attempted to embrace the intelligence community by delivering a campaign pep rally short on facts and long on vitriol.
“I love you. I respect you,” said the president, who ten days earlier likened U.S. spies to Nazi Germany for their role in publicizing an intel dossier packed with allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising information on him.
“There is nobody who feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” Trump said, speaking before the wall at CIA headquarters engraved with black stars for the officers who died in the agency’s service. “You’re going to get so much backing that you’re going to say, ‘Please don’t give us so much backing.”
The substance of Trump’s speech focused on the fight against what he called “radical Islamic terrorism,” echoing his inaugural line that it be “eradicated off the face of the earth.” While Trump did not offer any details on how he would do that, he hinted at a more aggressive approach in prosecuting the war on terrorism.
“We have not used the real abilities that we have. We have been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice,” Trump said. “We’re going to start winning again and you are going to be leading the charge.”
At times, Trump’s remarks veered into political territory unfamiliar to an agency that prides itself on remaining above the partisan fray. He attacked the media, bragged about his election, and bizarrely claimed huge crowds on inauguration day.
White House spokesperson Sean Spicer used his first press statement Saturday to deliver an angry broadside against the media and reports of the inaugural crowd size. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong,” he said.
Trump claimed between 1 and 1.5 million attended the inauguration; estimates put it closer to 250,000 attendees.
“I have a running war with the media,” Trump said. “They are among the most dishonest human beings.”
He repeatedly referenced the magnitude of his election victory. “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me,” Trump said. “We’re all on the same wavelength, folks!”
At one point, Trump regurgitated parts of his stump speech about how the United States “should have kept the oil” after invading Iraq. “Maybe we’ll have another chance,” he added. Aside from being physically impossible to sequester billions of barrels of underground oil, that would constitute a breach of international law. U.S. troops are currently embedded with forces of the country that Trump suggested again invading.
Democrats immediately pounced on the appearance. “After he finished ranting about crowd sizes on on the National Mall, I hope President Trump sat down for an interview with the CIA to help their investigation into his team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to win the election,” DNC senior adviser Zac Petkanas said in a statement.
In a statement, former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump “should be ashamed of himself.” Brennan said he was “saddened and angered” by what he described as Trump’s “despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall.”
During his remarks, Trump revealed what appeared to be an abbreviated hiring process for his pick to be CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.). Trump claimed he spoke with Pompeo once and was immediately so impressed with him that he cancelled his other interviews for the job.
Speaking in the lobby of the CIA before a crowd of about 300 agency employees — who’d entered a raffle to be able to attend — Trump seemed to cherish his role as a real estate developer more than neophyte commander in chief. He told the group they would need a bigger room for his next visit, and that they should lose Langley’s unsightly columns.
“Maybe it will be built by somebody who knows how to build, and we won’t have columns!” Trump declared.
Olivier Doulier – Pool/Getty Images