WASHINGTON — President Trump paid a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., on his first full day in office, angering the agency’s last director with the content of his address in front of the memorial wall.
The stars on the lobby wall represent 117 CIA employees who died in the line of duty. A few hundred staffers at the CIA attended the optional remarks from Vice President Pence and Trump, according to the White House pool report.
Pence called it “especially humbling for me to be before all of you today — men and women of character, who have sacrificed greatly — and to stand before this hallowed wall, this memorial wall, where we remember 117 who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”
“I can assure you this new president and our entire team recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices of all of the men and women of the intelligence community of the United States of America,” the VP added.
Trump’s remarks followed, in which he told the agency “there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump.”
“And I know maybe sometimes you haven’t gotten the backing that you’ve wanted, and you’re going to get so much backing. Maybe you’re going to say, please don’t give us so much backing. Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing,” Trump added.
Trump speculated that “probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did.”
He then steered to terrorism: “We have not used the real abilities that we have. We’ve been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS. Have to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice. Radical Islamic terrorism. And I said it yesterday — it has to be eradicated just off the face of the Earth. This is evil. This is evil. And you know, I can understand the other side. We can all understand the other side. There can be wars between countries, there can be wars. You can understand what happened. This is something nobody can even understand. This is a level of evil that we haven’t seen. And you’re going to go to it, and you’re going to do a phenomenal job. But we’re going to end it. It’s time. It’s time right now to end it.”
Trump then lauded several of his appointees, telling the CIA staffers in attendance that Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) was “the only guy” he interviewed to lead the agency. “I didn’t want to meet anybody else. I said, cancel everybody else. Cancel.” The Senate will debate Pompeo’s nomination Monday.
He reminisced a bit about the presidential campaign, and recalled what he’d said about how the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil. “If we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil. But OK,” Trump said. “Maybe you’ll have another chance. But the fact is, should have kept the oil.”
Trump, who lashed out against the intelligence community in a series of tweets surrounding the Russian hacking report and reports of the contents of his intelligence briefing, said the CIA was his first stop because “I have a running war with the media — they are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
He spent most of the rest of his remarks contesting crowd estimates from his inauguration — the National Park Service no longer makes estimates, so estimates from other sources have ranged from 250,000 to 600,000 — saying “it looked like a million, million and a half people.”
“The 20-block area, all the way back to the Washington Monument, was packed. So we caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”
Trump wrapped up with comments on the weekend crowd size at the CIA. “When you let in your thousands of other people that have been trying to come in — because I am coming back — we’re going to have to get you a larger room. We may have to get you a larger room. You know? And maybe, maybe, it will be built by somebody that knows how to build, and we won’t have columns,” he said. “You understand that? We get rid of the columns.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan’s deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro issued a statement saying that Brennan “is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes.”
“Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself,” Shapiro added. Before his appointment by Obama, Brennan spent 25 years in the CIA.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during an evening statement in the press briefing room that the CIA employees in attendance “were ecstatic that he’s the new commander in chief, and he delivered them a powerful and important message.” He did not address Brennan’s comments or take questions from reporters.