President Trump visited CIA's headquarters in Northern Virginia on Saturday afternoon, making a gesture of goodwill after he harshly criticized the intelligence community in the run-up to his inauguration.
“There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” said Trump.
Trump thanked the intelligence officers for their service. This was be the first in what aides say will be a series of visits the president will make to federal departments and agencies in the weeks to come.
Trump's visit may be designed to signal a fresh start between the new president and an agency that he has frequently vilified.
Trump lambasted the intelligence community throughout much of his transition in an attempt to push back against what he saw as politically charged conclusions by the CIA and other agencies about Russia's hacking of Democratic Party emails to interfere with the 2016 election. He has taken issue with the CIA's determination that Moscow intervened not only to disrupt democratic mechanisms, but to help Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
During his recent news conference, Trump accused U.S. intelligence officials of being behind a Nazi-like smear campaign against him. And last weekend, for instance, Trump attacked CIA Director John Brennan — who resigned Friday at the conclusion of President Obama's term — in a pair of tweets.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at a briefing Thursday that Trump is “humbled” by the sacrifices and service of career intelligence officers, even if he disagrees with the actions of the intelligence community's leadership.
“The men and women who so often serve in the intelligence community without recognition because of the very nature of the work they do, is something that he has a true understanding of, the sacrifice that they make,” Spicer said. “And so he has been very, very clear that while he may have differences sometimes with the leadership of the intelligence community, that the work of the individuals — men and women who tirelessly support the analysis and readings of the intelligence community — is something that he will continue to show his support for and his thanks.”
Trump has skipped many of the daily intelligence briefings prepared for him, suggesting that he finds them repetitive and unnecessary, and he suggested that he would push the CIA to resume the use of counterterrorism tactics that were dismantled years ago, including the simulated drowning interrogation method known as waterboarding.
Trump's visit comes at a moment when the agency's leadership ranks are in flux. Brennan and his deputy, David Cohen, both left their positions Friday and vacated their offices on the agency's seventh floor.
Trump's nominee to lead the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, a process that was delayed Friday by objections from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). That leaves the agency's executive director, career officer Meroe Park, temporarily in charge. Only a small percentage of the CIA's workforce is likely to be on duty on a Saturday.
Just two of Trump's nominees — Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly — have been confirmed by the Senate as of Saturday morning, a source of frustration for the president and his top advisers. Mattis and Kelly were sworn in Friday evening by Vice President Pence.