WASHINGTON ― White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Sunday downplayed any tension between President Donald Trump and the intelligence community, characterizing Trump’s meeting with the CIA over the weekend as a “love fest.”
Trump addressed members of the agency on Saturday and gave a meandering, defensive speech in which he boasted about attendance at his inauguration.
Priebus, who said he attended the speech, told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that the president had received a warm reception.
“I’m telling you it was a love fest if you were in the room,” he said. “These are men and women that President Trump loves and respects.”
The press report from the event suggests at least some of the love was more reality television than actually real. The press noted that the applause during Trump’s speech appeared to be coming from people the president had bussed in.
The rent-a-crowd gambit did not fool former CIA Director John Brennan, who slammed Trump’s speech as a “despicable display of self-aggrandizement.”
Trump’s approach to the intelligence community has been similar to his approach to everything else ― dismissive and confrontational. In mocking CIA reports on Russia having interfered with the U.S. presidential election, he cited the agency’s bungling on Iraq. Although there is no proof of who leaked an unverified dossier about Trump’s links to Russia, he accused the CIA of doing it and compared the intelligence community to Nazi Germany. Brennan had called out Trump for his Nazi comment.
Priebus, again without proof, told Wallace that the leak must have come from “one bad actor in the intelligence community.” When asked for more proof about CIA involvement in the leak, he said simply: “You don’t know they didn’t.”
On Brennan, Priebus was as combative as his boss.
“I think that John Brennan has a lot of things that he should answer for in regard to these leaked documents,” he said. “I find the whole thing despicable. I think that it’s unprofessional. I think perhaps he’s bitter. He was replaced the day before. ... I don’t know what’s in his head.”
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, also attacked Brennan on Sunday.
“I thought that just was an unremarkable, spectacularly disappointing statement from the outgoing CIA director,” she said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” “Does that statement and the very vituperative language included therein, does that improve relationships with the intelligence community? We have an outgoing CIA director sound like a partisan political hack about the president of the United States?”