Trump’s War with Intelligence Agencies Escalates Dangerously

Trump’s War with Intelligence Agencies Escalates Dangerously

© Larry Downing / Reuters

The ongoing clash between President Donald Trump and the Intelligence Community appears to be reaching a dangerous crescendo with a pair of reports out Thursday morning that suggest unsustainable levels of mistrust and acrimony between the White House and the agencies charged with keeping the country safe.

Intelligence officials have begun holding back information in the daily briefing Trump is supposed to receive about threats to national security, according to The Wall Street Journal. The report stresses that the information being kept from Trump is related to the sources and methods used to gather intelligence, not about the actual threats themselves.

Related: National Insecurity: Intel Officials Increasingly Worried About Trump

In a statement Thursday morning, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the report. "Any suggestion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the President and his national security team is not true,” the statement said.

At the same time, The New York Times reports that Trump is planning to launch a “broad review” of the structure of the Intelligence Community, possibly helmed by Trump’s friend Stephen A. Feinberg, a private equity billionaire with no experience in national security or intelligence issues.

The reason intelligence agencies are withholding information from Trump is that they are reportedly concerned about ties between Trump’s inner circle and the Russian government. Those worries were exacerbated this week by reports in Times and CNN that during the presidential campaign Trump aides and associates were in frequent contact with Russian intelligence officers.

Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced out after reports surfaced indicating he had misled the administration about the extent of his discussions with a Russian diplomat prior to Trump taking office.

Related: With Flynn Out, Trump Faces Pressing Questions About National Security

The Journal story backs up a report from New York Observer columnist and former National Security Agency official John Schindler, who earlier this week made a similar claim.

At the same time that the agencies in the Intelligence Community are doubting Trump’s trustworthiness, the president himself is apparently feeling the same way about them. In public comments and tweets over the past several days he has repeatedly complained about leaks of information about his campaign’s ties to Russia. The president has alternately blasted the press for stories he calls “fake news” and criticized the Intelligence Community for allowing sensitive information to be leaked, naming the FBI and the NSA in particular, which seems to imply that the so-called "fake news" has a basis in fact.

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Very un-American!”

On Thursday morning, the tweets continued. “Leaking and even illegal classified leaking has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!” he wrote. And, “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”

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As with many of Trump’s tweets, it was unclear precisely what motivated Thursday’s pre-7 a.m. eruption, but The Times report of a potential White House review of the Intelligence Community would presumably include some sort of investigation into how closely guarded information from Russian officials’ intercepted phone calls was provided to the media.

And Trump isn’t the only one concerned about the leaks. House Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who has come under fire for his refusal to mount any substantive inquiry into connections between Russian intelligence and the Trump administration, nevertheless called for an inspector general investigation of the intelligence community’s leaks to the media.

In a letter to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, co-signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the he wrote, "We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here. In light of this, we request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here."