In response to Pr*@%!^#t Donald Trump’s giving U.S. reporters on Air Force One an earful about how he views U.S. intelligence agencies as “political hacks” and Vladimir Putin as trustworthy, CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Saturday defended the agencies’ assessments that the Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. election:
“The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” the CIA said in a statement. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.”The agency refused to comment directly on the president’s remarks.
Given the avalanche of verifiable information that has publicly transpired in the year since Trump won the Electoral College and began employing his wrecking ball to government institutions and programs, including the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no doubt that Moscow did meddle. What we don’t know is how much meddling went on, how effective it was, how much Trump and his top campaign people knew about it, and whether they colluded with the Russians in the meddling. And until special counsel Robert Mueller finishes indicting people in his investigation and reporting on what he has learned, we won’t have firm answers to these questions.
For anyone who has followed the sordid history of the 70-year-old CIA and several of its leaders like Allen Dulles, Bill Casey and Michael Hayden, Trump’s trashing former high-ranking intelligence officials as hacks and liars brings on a big hunk of cognitive dissonance. Trump specifically named John Brennan, former CIA director, and James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, as untrustworthy. One doesn’t have to be a fan of Donald Trump—and I am about as far away from that as one can be without being in another solar system—both Clapper and Brennan are liars.
And just because the man who squats in the White House lies practically every time he opens his mouth doesn’t make him wrong when he labels others liars. But their lies on other matters don’t mean the assessment of Russian meddling by four U.S. intelligence agencies is wrong.
Throughout its history, one of those agencies, the CIA, has included covert action teams and disinformation teams, which thrive on lies and deception as an integral part of their jobs. But the bulk of the CIA’s and other intelligence agencies’ employees work for the data-gathering teams. To be useful, they must be truthful. That does not mean their work isn’t used in untruthful ways, or that it isn’t cherry-picked for purposes of political maneuvering. In other words, one can distrust Clapper and Brennan and still trust the intelligence agencies’ views on Russian shenanigans regarding U.S. elections.
One thing for certain, nothing the agencies have done, or that Clapper and Brennan have done, should spur anyone to view as trustworthy the former KGB operative and recruiter who now runs Russia like a 21st Century czar. Trump’s willingness to do so while throwing U.S. agencies into the trashbin speaks volumes for his judgment and alignment.