The Intercept just broke a pretty big story: CIA Director Mike Pompeo reportedly met with the purveyor of a disputed theory about the internal Democratic National Committee emails that were released last year — a theory that runs counter to the intelligence community's own long-standing conclusions about the matter.
It's not the first example of Pompeo doing something that has been put under microscope. But there is a common thread running through just about every example: Pompeo doing and saying questionable things involving Russia — and those questionable things tend to lean in a pro-Trump direction.
The most recent example is Pompeo's meeting with William Binney, a former intelligence official who argues that the DNC hack wasn't a hack at all, but rather a leak from within.
Binney, of course, isn't the only one who has cast doubt on the intelligence community's conclusions; so too has Trump, who has at times suggested the very idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election was “fake news.”
And the kicker in the Intercept's story is that Trump, according to Binney and another source, just so happens to be the one who suggested the meeting:
In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.
The meeting was confirmed by two other sources, while the CIA has declined to comment on Pompeo's schedule, as it generally does.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman in the CIA's office of public affairs, told The Post: "The director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment..." Pompeo has said in public hearings that he believes Russia was behind the hacking.
The implications here are pretty big: a U.S. president telling his CIA director to meet with someone pitching what the intelligence community basically regards as a conspiracy theory. The intelligence community's report on Russian interference, from way back in January, is clear that it believes this was a hack:
In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016.
The [Russian foreign intelligence service, or GRU] probably began cyber operations aimed at the US election by March 2016. We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures. By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC.
Binney is a former official at the National Security Agency (NSA) who later became a whistleblower and now belongs to Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former intelligence officials who are skeptical of the intelligence community's conclusions. He has occasionally been a guest on Fox News, where it seems Trump may have seen him, and where host Sean Hannity once seized upon the inside-job theory and tied it — dubiously — to the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. The appeal of Binney's theory to Trump is clear: It suggests Russia's interference wasn't nearly so broad or influential as the intelligence community contends.
And that's where it ties in nicely with Pompeo's other recent controversies.
At an event three weeks ago, Pompeo made a highly curious remark, saying that “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.” This mirrored a talking point previously offered by Trump and the White House, but that talking point is categorically false. The intelligence report said clearly that it wouldn't weigh in on how much impact Russia may have had, not that it didn't have an impact.
Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2017
That might be a slip of the tongue from an amateur. But how the CIA director, of all people, could get something of such importance — something that for him should be completely basic knowledge — so wrong sure seemed odd.
Separately, Pompeo has also drawn scrutiny for making an agency unit deeply involved in investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia — the Counterintelligence Mission Center — report directly to him, as the The Post's Greg Miller reported. And previously, Axios reported that he was among the Trump administration officials who had been enlisted by the White House to beat back a New York Times story about the Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
All along, intelligence officials have expressed concern about the possible politicization of Pompeo's job. Pompeo's use of a Trump talking point last month, and now his meeting with a high-profile skeptic of the intel community's conclusions at Trump's own request, sure won't tamp down those concerns.