For a few days, it almost looked as if Donald Trump had made a tenuous peace with U.S. intelligence agencies over their unwelcome finding that Russia’s Vladimir Putin had tried to help his presidential campaign.
But it didn’t take much to set him off again – and prompt him to escalate his war against the bureaucrats he believes are out to get him.
When reports surfaced of salacious allegations about Trump compiled by a former British spy last year for a political campaign, the president-elect instantly blamed … the U.S. intelligence community.
“I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information [out] that turned out to be so false and fake,” Trump told reporters at his news conference on Wednesday. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did.”
Let that sink in: The next president says the intelligence agencies he will oversee are deliberately trying to ruin his reputation by leaking false information.
If he believes that, one of his first orders to his new director of national intelligence, former Sen. Dan Coats, will be a wide-ranging leak investigation, followed by a purge.
Trump is justifiably angry about that dossier of unsubstantiated charges. It’s nasty stuff, and none of it has been verified.
But the dossier didn’t originate in a U.S. intelligence agency, and it’s not clear that they leaked it, either.
The dossier has been in the hands of at least a half-dozen media organizations for months. None of them published it, because they couldn’t substantiate it, until Buzzfeed posted it on Tuesday.
Sen. John McCain had the material too; he turned it over to FBI Director James Comey, who said he already had a copy. At least one foreign government had it too.
More people learned of the dossier when the intelligence agencies briefed Trump and eight senior members of Congress last week. That apparently precipitated Buzzfeed’s decision to publish.
So the leak could have come from lots of places, including Capitol Hill. Trump faulted the intelligence agencies for failing to keep it under wraps, but it was already out there.Two consequences flow from this unseemly flap.
One is that Trump begins his presidency at war with his own intelligence agencies and inclined to ignore what they tell him. Coats and Mike Pompeo, the incoming CIA director, won’t have an easy time repairing that relationship.
The other is that Trump will use this episode to dismiss questions about Russia’s involvement in his campaign as part of what he’s called a “witch hunt.”
He’ll continue to say, as he did on Wednesday, that he had no dealings of any kind with Russia – financial, political or otherwise. Members of Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats, have pressed for further investigation, and they’re right. The furor over the Buzzfeed leak is mostly a diversion, but it will make their case harder to make, not easier.
MORE FROM OPINION