President-elect Donald Trump has long flirted with an adversarial relationship with our country's intelligence community. And now he apparently has gone too far for at least one of its leaders.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Monday night, CIA Director John O. Brennan had finally had it. Brennan said Trump crossed “the line” by invoking Nazi Germany while talking about the intelligence community having, in Trump's words, “allowed” a dossier full of unconfirmed and salacious allegations about him to leak into the public domain.
Here's Trump's tweet:
Brennan didn't hold back, saying Trump has a right to challenge the intelligence community — but not in this manner.
“It’s when there are allegations made about leaking or about dishonesty or a lack of integrity, that’s where I think the line is crossed,” Brennan said.
He added: “Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis. Tell the CIA officers who are serving in harm’s way right now and their families who are worried about them that they are akin to Nazi Germany. I found that to be very repugnant, and I will forever stand up for the integrity and patriotism of my officers who have done much over the years to sacrifice for their fellow citizens.”
That's pretty strong.
Brennan will not continue on as CIA director in the soon-to-be-installed Trump administration — that's Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) -- so his decision to lash out at Trump isn't all that significant going forward. But it's worth acknowledging just how stern a rebuke the CIA director delivered to Trump just days before he takes the oath of office.
And were this not Trump — and had there not been a kind of slow boil of the president-elect's controversial statements about the intelligence community — this is the kind of thing that would register as major news. In a way, we've become desensitized to it.
A few examples of how we got to this point:
- It took Trump until last week to acknowledge that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — a long-held conclusion of the intelligence community. Trump had previously suggested that it might have been the Democrats themselves, China, “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” or “some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
- Trump still hasn't acknowledged the intelligence community's conclusion that the effort was intended to benefit his candidacy.
- In July, he said he hoped Russian hackers had Clinton's emails and urged them to find them if they didn't.
- In one tweet this month, he claimed that an intelligence briefing he was to receive on Russia's hacking had been delayed, even as the intel community said it had not, and . . .
- . . . in the same tweet, he questioned whether the intelligence community needed to buy time to “build a case.” He also has called efforts to look into Russian hacking a “political witch hunt.”
- He has regularly put the word “intelligence” in quotation marks in his tweets.
- He has suggested at multiple points that the intelligence community may have directly leaked the dossier, even as it is not an intelligence document and was seen by many journalists and lawmakers in Washington before BuzzFeed published it. He said last week that it was leaked by “maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that.” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. pushed back, clarifying that “this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the [intelligence community].”
- Trump and his team have mischaracterized the intelligence committee's report when it comes to whether Russia actually had an effect on the 2016 election. Although the intelligence community has said clearly that it can't and won't make that determination, Trump's team has said it determined there was no impact.
- Trump has doubted the intelligence community by saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
- He has favorably cited the comments of Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin — who are decidedly not allies of U.S. intelligence — while being much more skeptical about U.S. intelligence.
Trump has tempered these comments by occasionally inserting some praise of the intelligence community, and he has left enough wiggle room in the things he has said so that it doesn't seem as though he's directly accusing them of working against him — only suggesting as much.
But the totality of it is clear. And Brennan had enough — as others who haven't spoken out certainly have as well. It'll be fascinating to see what happens once Trump's own people are running the intelligence community and leakers say something Trump doesn't like.