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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump and Intelligence Community

President Trump engaged in revisionist history when he accused the “dishonest” media of making “it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.” In fact, Trump made numerous disparaging remarks about the U.S. intelligence community.

On his first full day as president, Trump visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In his remarks, Trump promised to support the intelligence community. But then he went too far in blaming the media for distorting his past statements about U.S. intelligence.

Trump, Jan. 21: And 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. (Laughter and applause.) 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 — exactly.

At his press briefing on Jan. 23, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump went to the CIA “to dispel the myth that there was a quote unquote rift.”

But the fact is that Trump belittled the intelligence community’s work and questioned its motives in a series of statements and tweets before and after the election. His disagreement with the intelligence community stemmed from the IC’s investigation of Russian cyber attacks on Democratic committees and officials.

On Oct. 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out a statement saying the Russian government “directed” the hacking “to interfere with the US election process.”

On Jan. 6, 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence went further and released a declassified report that said Russian President Vladimir Putin “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and that he had waged a broad “influence campaign” to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process” and to help elect Trump.

For months, Trump refused to accept the intelligence community’s findings of Russia’s meddling in the election.

During an Oct. 9, 2016, debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump said “maybe there is no hacking.” That was two days after the intelligence community said the Russian government “directed” the hacking.

Trump, Oct. 9, 2016:  But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday two months later, Trump said the intelligence community did not know who was behind the hacking.

Trump, Dec. 11, 2016: They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.

In a statement around that time, Trump also questioned the intelligence community’s track record — citing its intelligence work prior to the Iraq war in 2003.

Trump, Dec. 9, 2016: These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

A month after that, Trump escalated his criticism of the intelligence community by questioning its motives.

In a Jan. 3, 2017, tweet, Trump claimed that intelligence officials had delayed a briefing with him on the Russia report. In that tweet, Trump dismissively used air quotes around the word “intelligence” to describe the briefing, and questioned whether the delay was needed “to build a case” against Russia.

A day later, Trump quoted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s involvement in the election. According to the U.S. intelligence report, Russian military intelligence used WikiLeaks to publicly release hacked emails that were damaging to Clinton — a claim Assange denied.

On Jan. 11, 2017, Trump accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking an unsubstantiated report that Russia had damaging information on Trump. He claimed the leak was done to take “one last shot at me,” and compared it to “living in Nazi Germany.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied that “the leaks came from within the IC.”

We have no reason to doubt Trump’s words when he says that, as president, he will have the CIA’s back and will be its biggest supporter. But Trump can’t take back words that he said about intelligence and falsely claim that the media misreported them.

Editor’s Note: An annotated transcript of the president’s remarks at the CIA can be found on our transcript homepage