CIA director Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the agency is providing President Donald Trump with the best intelligence it can, disputing reports that the spy community is withholding information from the commander in chief.
“The CIA does not, has not, and will never hide intelligence from the president, period. We are not aware of any instance when that has occurred,” Pompeo said in a statement aimed at quelling reports that the intelligence community and Trump were in conflict.
He said news reports that the agency was keeping intelligence from the president are “dead wrong” and damage the “the integrity of thousands of professional intelligence officers.”
Pompeo’s statement came on the same day that a senior White House official said the administration had asked a New York-based private equity executive – Stephen Feinberg, co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management – to lead a review of the U.S. intelligence community.
Feinberg has been asked to make recommendations on improvements to efficiency and co-ordination between the various intelligence agencies, the official said. His position was not to become official until he completed an ethics review, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
However, Trump later appeared to back off the idea, saying somebody else might not be needed because it could be handled by Pompeo, FBI Director James Comey and Dan Coats, the president’s nominee to be director of national intelligence who has not yet been confirmed.
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“They’re in position so I hope that we’ll be able to straighten that out without using anybody else,” Trump said at a news conference.
He said Feinberg was a “very talented man, very successful man” who has offered his services to the administration. “You know, it’s something we may take advantage of. But I don’t think we’re (going to) need that at all because of the fact that you know, I think that we are gonna be able to straighten it out very easily on its own.”
The news that Feinberg was being tapped to do an intelligence review drew complaints from Democrats.
Feinberg was among the economic advisers for Trump’s presidential campaign. Cerberus Capital Management, a firm with $30 billion in investments, is deeply rooted in the Republican establishment. Former Vice-President Dan Quayle is the firm’s head of global investment, and former Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who served under President George W. Bush, is the firm’s chairman.
“While we must always be open to improving organization and co-ordination among intelligence agencies, taken in concert with the large number of troubling statements President Trump has made denigrating our nation’s intelligence professionals, I am extremely concerned that this appointment signals a desire by the administration to marginalize the role of the DNI or even take unprecedented steps to politicize intelligence operations,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
The DNI is the director of national intelligence.
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Many intelligence professionals also viewed the White House review as another slight by the Trump White House, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence officer who spoke only on condition of anonymity out of concern for putting former colleagues at risk. They already are worried about politicization of the intelligence product and fear this could be a way to hinder their ability to provide information that might contradict the White House’s political views, the official said.
Mike Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, said the White House can review inefficiencies within the intelligence community but should not attempt to exert control over the agencies. Hayden said in an interview that the proposed White House review of the 17 intelligence agencies could be an unsettling development for Coats.
Some current and former administration officials have raised concern over the extent to which Trump has empowered members of his inner circle on matters that are typically left to the intelligence agencies.
The newly established Strategic Initiatives Group, headed by White House strategist Steve Bannon, includes a unit charged with counterterrorism intelligence, current and former senior officials say. The unit is headed by White House aide and former national security analyst Sebastian Gorka, who doesn’t have appropriate clearance, they said – something the officials expressed concern about given the sensitive mandate of the unit.
However, Pompeo had been actively briefing the president every day he can and the president is settling into a traditional process of receiving his daily intelligence brief and talking to intelligence advisers, said an intelligence official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke only on condition of anonymity.