On Saturday, reality TV star-turned-president Donald J. Trump visited CIA headquarters at Langley hoping to shore up his fragile relationship with the American intelligence community. But he managed to do exactly the opposite with his self-aggrandizing remarks.
Not only was Trump standing in front of the Memorial Wall for fallen heroes, he also had a “peanut gallery” of staffers hooting and hollering their support — as if he was speaking a rally instead of standing in a sacred place.
More from CNN Prod per pool: “…the persons who are on the side…are the ones clapping and reacting. We do not know who these people are.”
— Robert Gifford (@giff18) January 21, 2017
Trump was already at war with the CIA and other intelligence agencies over his alleged ties to Russia. Now CBS News quotes unnamed intelligence officials who found Trump’s remarks “uncomfortable” and say his unscheduled visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse.”
Former CIA deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro has reported that CIA Director John Brennan was “deeply saddened and angered” by Trump’s “despicable display” and said that Trump “should be ashamed of himself.”
Try to imagine Trump pulling this same stunt in front of the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It would not go over well.
Just as the graves at Arlington are the resting place of American servicemen and women, the CIA Memorial Wall features 117 stars cut into white marble that represent CIA officers killed in the line of duty. Currently, 33 of those stars remain nameless, the identities of their subjects still a state secret.
During his remarks, President Trump veered wildly off-topic, at one point trying to blame his entire dust-up with the intelligence agencies on the media. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” he said, drawing laughter and applause from his staff.
Career CIA personnel were unimpressed, however, especially when Trump spent a large part of his time raving about the size of his Inauguration Day crowd.
At The New Yorker, Robin Wright notes that Trump barely even acknowledged the optics of his “shallow, irreverent, and vainglorious” appearance.
In his remarks, Trump made passing reference to the “special wall” behind him but never mentioned the top-secret work or personal sacrifices of intelligence officers like Ames and the others who died in Beirut, including the C.I.A. station chief Kenneth Haas, and James F. Lewis, who had been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and his wife Monique, who was on her first day on the job at the Beirut embassy. Nor did the President refer to any of the dozens of others for whom stars are etched on the hallowed C.I.A. wall of honor. It was like going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and not mentioning those who died in the Second World War.
Before Donald Trump is done, we will see him try this stunt again with living and dead military heroes as props. Count on it.
Remember, Trump told a biographer that he “always felt” like he had been in the military because he attended a military school. He said during the campaign that he knew more than the generals did. But since November, he has named an unprecedented number of generals to his cabinet in order to burnish his thin credentials on national defense — a sign of the deep insecurities that drive him.
During his presidency, Trump will have many opportunities to talk about himself, his hatred of the media, and the “alternative facts” of his fantasy life in settings where it is completely inappropriate.
When he fails to acknowledge the sacrifices of others, and a gaggle of sycophants laughs at his jokes, nobody can say they are surprised.Click here for reuse options!
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