Trump’s clash with in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus tied to Rus­sia ques­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

WASH­ING­TON — A his­toric clash may be erupt­ing be­tween the in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus of the United States and the coun­try’s demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent, with the high-level in­trigue linked to ques­tions about the Don­ald Trump cam­paign’s ties with Rus­sia.

The pres­i­dent an­nounced Thurs­day that he’s in­structed the Jus­tice Depart­ment to ex­am­ine leaks to the me­dia that have dam­aged his ad­min­is­tra­tion — in­clud­ing sev­eral based on pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions with for­eign gov­ern­ments.

In­ter­cepted phone calls with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador, for in­stance, led to the fir­ing of Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser this week. The pres­i­dent lamented the fir­ing, in­sist­ing Michael Flynn had done noth­ing wrong in re­as­sur­ing Rus­sia about eco­nomic sanc­tions.

The pres­i­dent told a news con­fer­ence that the rea­son he axed the se­nior mil­i­tary man was that Flynn later mis­char­ac­ter­ized those in­ter­ac­tions to Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence. Now he wants to go af­ter the leak­ers.

“We’re gonna find the leak­ers,” Trump said. “They’re gonna pay a big price.”

The news con­fer­ence came on the same day the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are with­hold­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion from Trump from fear it might wind up be­ing handed over to for­eign ac­tors; Trump called the story dis­grace­ful, and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials de­nied it.

It’s not clear whether the leaks are com­ing from in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials or civil ser­vants hos­tile to Trump.

On top of call­ing in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, there could be more mea­sures.

Trump has con­firmed he’s con­sid­er­ing bring­ing in a Wall Street power bro­ker, known as a cor­po­rate wreck­ing ball for re­form­ing un­prof­itable busi­nesses, to come in and fix the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

He said he’s weigh­ing an of­fer from Cer­berus founder Steven Fein­berg to re­view them. But he said he hopes to avoid that, as his own na­tional-se­cu­rity team takes its place in­clud­ing newly con­firmed CIA boss Mike Pom­peo.

“I hope that we’ll be able to straighten that out with­out us­ing any­body else,” he said. “Those are crim­i­nal leaks.”

The pres­i­dent even scolded the press for writ­ing about ma­te­rial gained il­le­gally, sug­gest­ing most ma­jor me­dia out­lets should be ashamed of them­selves.

He then brushed off a glar­ing con­tra­dic­tion.

Ev­ery day in the home stretch of the elec­tion, Trump made use of il­le­gally ob­tained ma­te­rial, stolen by hack­ers from Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair, al­legedly tied to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence, and posted onto the site Wik­iLeaks.

But that was dif­fer­ent, Trump said — Wik­iLeaks wasn’t pub­lish­ing clas­si­fied U.S. ma­te­rial.

Trump has been dogged since the sum­mer by ques­tions about il­licit ties with Rus­sia.

His cam­paign chair Paul Manafort quit af­ter re­ports about fi­nan­cial and per­sonal re­la­tions with pro-Putin politi­cians in Ukraine and Rus­sia. His for­eign-pol­icy ad­viser Carter Page quit af­ter sim­i­lar re­ports.

Now there are more re­ports — about U.S. au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Trump’s team was com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence dur­ing the cam­paign.

Asked whether mem­bers of his team were com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump said he, per­son­ally, hadn’t — but he left him­self some wig­gle room with re­spect to whether oth­ers had.

“No­body that I know of,” he said, adding later, “To the best of my knowl­edge no per­son that I deal with.”

He ex­pressed frus­tra­tion about hav­ing phone calls with world lead­ers, from Mex­ico and Aus­tralia, then see­ing un­flat­ter­ing de­tails drib­ble into the press. He won­dered whether that kind of re­port­ing will hap­pen when he’s talk­ing about more dan­ger­ous files — in­volv­ing North Korea and the Mid­dle East.

Democrats say that if a rift is grow­ing be­tween the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, it’s not the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s fault. Ed Markey, a Demo­crat on the Se­nate for­eign-re­la­tions com­mit­tee, says Trump can blame him­self.

“Let’s be hon­est: The na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus in our coun­try is in chaos. It’s in dis­ar­ray. We don’t have the pres­i­dent prais­ing the na­tional in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity for find­ing that there could have been a com­pro­mise of our elec­tion — (and) po­ten­tially a com­pro­mise of the sanc­tions ... upon Rus­sia,” he told MSNBC.

“In­stead Pres­i­dent Trump is mad at the in­for­ma­tion be­ing put out into the pub­lic do­main.”

STEPHEN CROWLEY, NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has in­structed the Jus­tice Depart­ment to ex­am­ine re­cent leaks to me­dia.

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