President Trump praises CIA employees, promises more help to fight terrorism

On his first official visit, President Trump told an overflow crowd of CIA employees Saturday that he supports them “one thousand percent” and will give them the resources needed to finish off the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I love you, I respect you, there’s nobody I respect more,” he told several hundred cheering workers at the spy agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. “We’re going to start winning again, and you’re going to be leading the charge.”

Mr. Trump said the CIA was his first stop as president because the “dishonest” media “sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

“It is exactly the opposite,” the president said.

During the presidential transition period, Mr. Trump feuded with outgoing Director John Brennan over leaked information on Russia’s role in the presidential election.

Mr. Trump told the employees, “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump.”

“Very, very few people could do the job you people do. I am so behind you.”

He promised to provide more government resources to the intelligence community, saying it’s essential to eradicate the Islamic State, and even joked that the CIA might get more than it wants.

“Maybe sometimes you haven’t gotten the backing that you’ve wanted,” Mr. Trump said. “You’re going to get so much backing. Maybe you’re going to say ‘please, don’t give us so much backing.’ But you’re going to have that.”

Accompanying the president were Vice President Mike Pence, White House national security adviser Mike Flynn and Rep. Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump’s nominee to become CIA director. The president had hoped to swear-in Mr. Pompeo during the visit, but the Senate delayed a vote on his confirmation until Monday.

“They’re doing little political games with me,” Mr. Trump said of Senate Democrats.

The president praised Mr. Pompeo as “a gem.”

“You will be getting a total star,” he told the employees, adding that their work is essential to Mr. Pompeo’s job. “If you give him the right direction, boy, does the fighting become easier. We have to start winning again.”

The president spoke in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, which has 117 stars honoring employees who have died in the line of service.

The meeting came amid an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into “counterintelligence concerns related to Russia” in the presidential election, and possible links between Russia and campaign officials. Mr. Brennan had criticized Mr. Trump for not taking a tougher stance against Russia after the intelligence community accused Moscow of hacking in the election to harm the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Democratic National Committee senior adviser Zac Petkanas mocked Mr. Trump’s visit to the spy agency headquarters.

“I hope President Trump sat down for an interview with the CIA to help with their investigation into his team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to win the election,” Mr. Petkanas said in a statement. “Next, he can sit down with the FBI who have sought warrants to monitor his team for the same reason.”

Mr. Trump dismissed talk of a rift between him and the intelligence community, saying he had the strong backing of national-security personnel in the election.

“Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hand,” the president said to laughter. “We’re all on the same wavelength, folks.”

Acting CIA Director Meroe Park said the agency was only able to accommodate about 400 employees for the event, and said “hundreds more wanted to come.”

“The CIA’s relationship to our president has been essential to the nation’s strength and security,” she said. “Mr. President, I can assure you that in the years ahead, the CIA, along with the rest of the intelligence community will do everything we can to provide you with the insights you need to protect our country, to advance American interests around the globe, and to carry out your duties as president.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, panned Mr. Trump’s remarks for talking about the crowd size at his inauguration and other topics unrelated to the sacrifice of intelligence agents.

“I had hoped that President Trump’s visit to CIA today would mark the beginning of a new relationship between him and Intelligence Community,” Mr. Schiff said. “But while standing in front of the stars representing CIA personnel who lost their lives in the service of their country — hallowed ground — Trump gave little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of their service and sacrifice. He will need to do more than use the agency memorial as a backdrop if he wants to earn the respect of the men and women who provide the best intelligence in the world.”

 

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