White House

Trump refuses to express confidence in intelligence chiefs amid latest feud

‘Time will prove me right, probably’ after they broke with him on Iran, North Korea and ISIS

—President Donald Trump, flanked from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S. D., and Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters following his lunch meeting with Senate Republicans in the Capitol on Jan. 9. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump further escalated his feud with his hand-picked intelligence bosses Thursday when he refused to clearly say he has confidence in them after they contradicted his policies during congressional testimony.

Asked if he has confidence in Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, Trump did not answer directly. “Time will prove me right, probably” on issues on which they differ, including: Iran, the Islamic State and North Korea.

That came a day after he called them “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran.”

[Trump tells GOP members they’re ‘wasting their time’ in border security talks]

On Tuesday, Coats told senators ISIS continues to “stoke violence” in Syria.

On North Korea, Coats offered a much different analysis than his boss. He said U.S. intel agencies have detected “some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization,” which Trump repeatedly claims Kim has agreed to. The DNI also said Kim and other North Korean leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”

Watch: Trump warns of another shutdown if Congress doesn't reach a new deal by Feb. 15

On Wednesday, Trump offered some advice Coats and Haspel, telling them to “go back to school!” That school, however, could be Fox News — the network aired a segment on an opinion show the president often cites in his tweets Tuesday evening slamming the intel chiefs.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called Trump’s statement about his intel chiefs “dismaying.”

“I've tracked this very closely and one dismaying factor of it all is that the president just doesn't seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him. So for him to make the statement that he did yesterday that's cause for concern,” she said.

She called the president’s open rebuke of his intel honchos a “cause for concern” and urged Republican members to “either have an intervention with the president about that, or recognize the problem that it faces to our country and take some congressional action.”

 

Trump’s refusal to express confidence in his intelligence leaders came during his first media availability in six days. The last time he was seen or spoke in public was Friday, when he capitulated and agreed to reopen nine Cabinet agencies and smaller offices that left 800,000 federal workers without paychecks for a month in a standoff with Democrats over his border wall.

Trump told reporters Thursday he will wait to see if a border security spending deal can be struck before deciding whether he will use a national emergency declaration to access border wall funding within the Pentagon budget.

“If they’re not going to give money for the wall ... it’s not going to work,” he said of Democratic members involved in House-Senate border security talks. His comment came about an hour after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said any legislation that panel produces will not propose a single penny to his proposed wall.

Democrats and left-leaning groups, however, say a national emergency would bring immediate legal challenges.

[So many 2020 Democrats, so much (executive) time]

One former White House official earlier this week told Roll Call those legal challenges likely would move quickly through the court system, with the big question being whether the U.S. Supreme Court would break with its decades of precedent by siding against a sitting president’s ability to decide when national security is at risk.

The president said he would not “waste my time reading what they have” if the House-Senate panel releases legislation that excludes wall funding.

“By having the [recently concluded] shutdown, we set the table” for what would happen come Feb. 15 and no deal headed to his desk or already signed.

The president then repeated his cryptic claim: “We’ve set the stage for what’s going to happen.”

Meantime, Trump vowed to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan if a deal can be finalized with Taliban leaders. And he again uttered a false statement after making thousands of incorrect remarks since taking office.

“I can’t tell you that this is a guarantee, because we’re going into close to 19 years in being in Afghanistan and for the first time, they’re talking about settling, talking about making an agreement,” Trump said. “And we bring our people back home, if that happens. We’ll see what happens.”

But the Obama administration unsuccessfully tried multiple times to bring Taliban leaders and Afghanistan government officials together for peace talks.

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