Multiple reports this week have cast the administration of Donald Trump as being increasingly at odds with U.S. intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency and the FBI, just weeks into his presidency and mere days after the fall of national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that intelligence agencies may be withholding sensitive information from the president over fears it could be leaked. The news organization, citing unnamed former and current officials, said that the withheld information could include intelligence gathering methods, such as “the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.” The sources said such decisions to keep information under wraps would be connected to Trump’s apparent fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The White House denied the allegations, and the Journal said its sources didn’t know of any instance in which “crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted.”
Also Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump may tap Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire New Yorker and friend of chief strategist Steve Bannon, to lead a review of U.S. intelligence agencies. While not official, the move has prompted concerns among the intelligence community that Feinberg’s role could “curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.”
The Times noted that the assignment could be a precursor for Feinberg, who has no intelligence experience, to take up “a high position” at one of the agencies.
The reports came just hours after Trump took to Twitter to lambast American spy agencies over what he called illegal leaks of sensitive information that led to Flynn’s resignation Monday. The retired Army officer stepped down after The Washington Post reported last week that he had spoken with Russian officials about U.S sanctions against the country weeks before Trump’s inauguration, despite administration officials saying he hadn’t.
The Post then reported Monday that the Justice Department had informed Trump in January that Flynn had misled officials and was “potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.” The president has since faced criticism for not acting sooner.
Rather than address these concerns, Trump has dodged reporters, tweeted his ire, and, during a press conference Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the dissemination of such information to the media a “criminal act.”
“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Trump said at the news conference. “It’s a criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”
Trump has also tried to deflect the firestorm around Flynn by using one of his favorite methods: attacking the media.
“I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media ― as I call it, the fake media, in many cases,” he said at the press conference. “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”
All of Trump’s comments come less than a month after he visited CIA headquarters in Virginia following the inauguration. During an address to intelligence officials there, Trump thanked them for their service and blamed any implied rift between himself and the agencies on the media.
“There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” he said. “There’s nobody.”