US President Donald Trump said America is “reasserting its strength” as Gina Haspel was sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), despite his strained relationship with the US intelligence community and particularly the FBI, the agency he just accused of spying on him.
The president, speaking at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, said “no one in this country is better qualified” for the position than former CIA operations officer of 33 years Ms Haspel. She will lead the "most elite intelligence professionals on the planet,” Mr Trump said. Ms Haspel is the first female to lead the agency since its establishment 70 years ago and earned the Senate’s approval in spite of her controversial stance on the use of enhanced interrogation - called torture by critics - on terror suspects.
“You face down our enemies. You protect our families. You stand and watch over our great nation. You don’t do it for fame or fortune or glory. You do it for your country. America is forever grateful,” Mr Trump said, effusive with his praise of the CIA. However, his compliments of the clandestine service do not reflect his thoughts on the American intelligence sector as a whole. Just yesterday, Mr Trump accused the FBI of spying on his 2016 campaign and possibly planting someone at the behest of Barack Obama's administration.
He demanded that the Department of Justice launch an investigation into whether a confidential informant of the bureau may have been involved, particularly if there were individuals from the administration of his predecessor that had given the order to spy. He did not name anyone in particular in the tweet.
He has repeatedly called the FBI investigation of his campaign team and alleged collusion with Russian officials a “witch hunt”. The probe, led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, is being conducted parallel to a Senate investigation as well.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversees Mr Mueller's investigation and said in response to the president’s claim: "if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action”.
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
As CNN reported, “it was possible that Rosenstein punted the matter to the inspector general [of the agency] to avoid a direct face-off between the White House and the Justice Department”. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, much to Mr Trump's apparent irritation, has had to recuse himself from all investigations related to Mr Trump's campaign team due to his work for them during the election.
Mr Trump’s issues with the intelligence community go back to January 2017, just before he took office, when sixteen agencies signed off on a report stating that Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 election.
Then in May 2017, Mr Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who said he thought it was because the agency was not dropping the matter into problems with former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The former staffer pleaded guilty late last year to lying to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Further demonstrating a possible disdain towards the intelligence community, just hours before Ms Haspel's ceremony Mr Trump tweeted a quote from conservative commentator Dan Bongino’s appearance on Fox News earlier in the day. who said that former CIA director John Brennan “disgraced the entire Intelligence Community. He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of [Americans’] faith in the Intelligence Community” including the FBI.
“John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community. He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community and in some people at the....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2018
Mr Trump added his own commentary to Mr Bongino’s quote about the now-infamous dossier, saying it was “phony”. The document authored by former UK intelligence officer Christopher Steele and paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee was first published by BuzzFeed News and made claims about Mr Trump’s alleged liaisons with prostitutes and other actions during a 2013 trip to Moscow.
Mr Brennan, who had served under former president Barack Obama, may have gotten under the skin of Mr Trump last month as well. He had tweeted: "Mr Trump: Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. Jim Clapper is a man of integrity, honesty, ethics, & morality. You are not,” in reference to the president’s comments about former director of national intelligence James Clapper.
The president had criticised Mr Clapper and others for their handling of Russian interference into the US election and his erstwhile opponent Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.