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Intelligence officials were ‘misquoted’ after public hearing, Trump claims

When asked about his disagreement with intelligence officials' threat assessments on Jan. 31, President Trump said "they were totally misquoted." (Video: The Washington Post)

A day after ridiculing his top intelligence officials as “passive and naive” and claiming they were ignorant about world affairs, President Trump on Thursday said the media had fabricated a conflict and that the officials were “misquoted” by the press after a public congressional hearing that was carried live on television.

The directors of the FBI and the CIA, the director of national intelligence and other officials testified Tuesday about worldwide threats to U.S. national security, revealing significant differences between what the intelligence community has concluded and what the president claims about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the prospect for nuclear talks with North Korea, the strength of the Islamic State and other security issues.

Trump lashed out at the intelligence chiefs on Twitter, calling their assessments “wrong” and suggesting that “Intelligence should go back to school!”

But on Thursday, Trump claimed the intelligence chiefs had told him their remarks had been taken out of context, and he asserted that there was no distance between him and his advisers.

“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office,” Trump tweeted, with a picture of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others seated around the Resolute Desk. The officials “told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media - and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.,” Trump wrote. “Their testimony was distorted press....”

“I would suggest you read the COMPLETE testimony from Tuesday,” the president added. “A false narrative is so bad for our Country. I value our intelligence community. Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!”

North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons national intelligence chief Daniel Coats said on Jan. 29. (Video: Reuters)

The hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee was public and carried on multiple TV networks. Coats, speaking on behalf of the other five witnesses, submitted 42 pages of written testimony on a wide range of security threats. Video of the hearing was posted on the committee’s website.

“They said that they were totally misquoted, and they were totally — it was taken out of context,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters. “I’d suggest that you call them. They said it was fake news, which frankly didn’t surprise me.”

A representative for the CIA declined to comment. A representative for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to a request for comment.

None of the agencies whose leaders testified have issued retractions or amendments to their written or spoken statements.

The president has had a contentious relationship with the intelligence agencies since before he took office. During the campaign, he tried to undermine public confidence in the intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election to help elect Trump.

But this week’s episode has seen some of the fiercest criticism yet from the president. In an exchange with reporters before his meeting with Haspel and Coats, Trump was asked whether he still had confidence in the two leaders “to give you good advice.”

“No, I disagree with certain things that they said,” Trump replied. “I think I’m right, but time will prove that. Time will prove me right, probably.”

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the intelligence committee defended the officials.

“The media didn’t make the President wake up on Wednesday and trash the intelligence community on Twitter,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the panel’s vice chairman, said in a statement. “This is the same President who stood on stage in Helsinki and told the world he believed Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence leaders,” Warner said, referring to a summit meeting last year between Trump and the Russian president. “No tweet or Oval Office photo-op can undo two years of the President’s total disrespect for the intelligence community.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee chairman, declined to comment on Trump’s tweets. But the senator told CNN on Wednesday that he has “ultimate faith in the intelligence community.”

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.