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Trump's CIA Director Says President Asks 'Hard Questions,' is 'Deeply Engaged' During Intel Briefings

CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks on intelligence issues at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Jan. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said President Trump is “deeply engaged” during his intelligence briefings, which occur in-person “nearly every day,” and he asks “hard questions” about policy matters that Pompeo’s team are sometimes not able to answer on the spot.

“The president asks hard questions. He’s deeply engaged. We’ll have rambunctious back-and-forth all aimed at making sure we are delivering the truth as best we understand it,” Pompeo said Tuesday during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute. “He’ll ask questions from time to time that we frankly don’t have the answer to. We didn’t bring it or we just weren’t as complete as we needed to be. We’ll go back and within a couple of hours deliver that information as best we can.”

Pompeo said National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Vice President Mike Pence also usually attend the briefings.

Shortly before Trump took office, the president told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” referring to intelligence briefings. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

AEI’s Marc Thiessen asked Pompeo if Trump is briefed on intelligence matters more often than President Obama, who reportedly received about half of his briefings in-person.

“I have seen 25-year intelligence professional receive briefings. I would tell you that President Trump is the kind of recipient of our information at the same level that they are…He has the grounding for him to be able to grasp this information in a way that he can ask sophisticated questions that then lead to important policy discussions,” Pompeo told Thiessen.

“I watch it, Marc. We’ll be sitting in a National Security Council meeting talking about a particular topic and he will bring up something I’ve briefed him about weeks or months ago. It could be that he knew that before that. I’m going to take full credit for having been the source of that knowledge, but I’ve seen this time and time again so it’s not simply the case that this is an exercise. He’s using it. He’s taking it onboard, and I’m confident our team is delivering it in a way that is delivering value to the president and not just to him but to other senior policy members as well,” he added.

Pompeo was asked if he thinks North Korean leader Kim Jong-un believes the U.S. government might eventually use military force against his regime if he does end his nuclear program

“We are concerned that he may not be getting really good, accurate information. It is not a healthy thing to be a senior leader and bring bad news to Kim Jong-un. Tell someone you are going to do that and try to get life insurance. I dare you,” Pompeo replied. “So we are doing – we’re taking the real-world actions we think will make unmistakable to Kim Jong-un that we are intent on denuclearization. We are counting on the fact that he’ll see it. We are confident he will.”

Pompeo said the CIA is focused on using “diplomatic means” to solve the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program.

“We’re working to prepare a series of options to make sure that we can deliver a range of things so the president will have the full suite of possibilities. The president is intent on delivering this solution through diplomatic means. It is the focus,” Pompeo said.

“We are equally, at the same time, ensuring that if we conclude that is not possible, that we present the president with a range of options that can achieve what is his stated intention,” he added.

Over the last year, Pompeo said the CIA has worked to gain the capacity to “interdict shipments” into North Korea.

“We’re not quite where we need to be,” Pompeo said. “Our mission is not complete, but we have officers all around the world working diligently to make sure that we do everything we can to support the U.S. pressure campaign and to tighten sanctions in such a way that we have the opportunity to prevail and to achieve the president’s mission, which is denuclearization of the peninsula.”

Reflecting on his time as director so far, Pompeo said he remains focused on the CIA’s mission of stealing secrets to protect America.

“We ask our officers to risk their lives to steal secrets to protect America,” Pompeo said. “It’s our fundamental mission. We will never shy away from it. And we do so aggressively and without any apology.”

Pompeo also emphasized the need for the CIA to “keep the American people’s trust.”

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to operate in a way that engenders the American people’s trust so that those powers and those authorities remain in place,” he said. “If we don’t, if we behave in ways that are lawless, if we behave in ways that you might see in the movies, then the Americans would rightfully take those powers, that authority, that capacity away from us. That would be unforgivable for our agency to find itself in that place. What we do is simply too important.”