Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a rather insane article claiming that parts of the intel community were refusing to give information to Donald Trump for fear that it would be leaked. Presumably they were alleging leaked to the Russians as they obviously weren’t concerned over the leaked classified information they had hoped would destroy Trump and that did take out Mike Flynn. Since that time every intelligence agency has denied the truth of the report, but still someone told that to the WSJ for a reason.
Today former CIA Director Leon Panetta was on Meet the Press and Chuck Todd brought up that story. This is the full interview if you’re of a mind to watch it. (Don’t believe the title on the video, the interview is anything but explosive.)
This is the clip that I’m interested in.
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. Senator John McCain is not the only familiar face troubled by Donald Trump’s current turmoil presidency. Just this week Leon Panetta, who has been the Secretary of Defense and the head of the CIA among other things, told the New York Times this, “I’ve never been so nervous in my lifetime about what may or may not happen in Washington … I don’t know whether this White House is capable of responding in a thoughtful or careful way should a crisis erupt.”
Well, I spoke with Mr. Panetta last night and began by asking him whether if he finds believable that report this week in the Wall Street Journal, which you heard referred to earlier in the show, that people in the intelligence community are withholding critical information from President Trump because they don’t trust him.
LEON PANETTA: No, it’s not. In my experience, I have never had intelligence officers who have a responsibility to provide full information to the president and to other leaders in the country ever withhold a piece of intelligence. So it’s something that certainly hasn’t occurred when I was there, and I doubt whether it’s happened this time.
CHUCK TODD: If you were running the C.I.A., and you had an intelligence officer say, “I have a sensitive piece of information but it may be connected with this investigation that’s going on with the current president,” in particular, Russia, this is the implication that was in The Wall Street Journal story that somehow anything, at least in that sphere, there is a concern about giving that to the president, would you have a hesitation of giving that information to the president?
LEON PANETTA: Absolutely not. Because your first responsibility is to provide the truth to the president. And if you start thinking about how the President’s going to use it, what he’s going to do with that information, then frankly, you’ll never provide the truth to the president. And that’s what intelligence officers are supposed to do.
CHUCK TODD: So if you were head of the C.I.A. and you knew intelligence officers were doing this, would that be a fireable offense?
LEON PANETTA: Absolutely. I think any time an intelligence agency withholds vital information to the president or withholds any key information to the president, that’s a violation of their oath.
I don’t doubt Panetta for a moment. I thought the WSJ story was just bluster because you aren’t going to want to ever be put in the position of holding information back from your bosses because you don’t want Trump to see it and then have some bad crap happen and people find out that you had the key bit of information.
However, this is the second published rumor floated out of the CIA by some disgruntled person seeking to make Trump look bad. Last week there was a report that Trump had called Mike Pompeo and yelled at him for being insufficiently quick in batting down the “we don’t give info to Trump” story:
CBS News has learned that on Thursday, an angry President Trump called CIA Director Mike Pompeo and yelled at him for not pushing back hard enough against reports that the intelligence community was withholding information from the commander-in-chief.
The agency then drafted a strongly worded statement rebutting the claim. “We are not aware of any instance when that has occurred,” read Pompeo’s statement. “It is CIA’s mission to provide the President with the best intelligence possible and to explain the basis for that intelligence. The CIA does not, has not, and will never hide intelligence from the President, period.”
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd denied Friday that there was a conversation between Pompeo and Mr. Trump about the article.
“There was no conversation between the CIA Director and the President about the Wall Street Journal article either before or after CIA issued its statement about the article,” Boyd said. “The CIA issued its statement on its own accord because the story was inaccurate and we felt the need to defend the integrity of our officers and institution.”
This story, suspiciously like the entirely fictional account reported by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin of an encounter between Steve Bannon and John Kelly, didn’t get a lot of attention because there was on the record denial available at the time of the story. It seems calculated to hurt both Trump and Pompeo.
Panetta’s interview is an interesting one. It doesn’t touch on the subject you’d expect: Mike Pompeo, Russians, Mike Flynn, the possible reform of the intel community. It is solely focused on the WSJ article. This leads to some interesting speculation — because that is what we do here. Keep in mind that by Friday three House Committees had asked Justice to investigate the classified leaks surrounding Mike Flynn’s resignation. Once those get launched they will be hard to contain. A major leak that will certainly be investigated will be that of the alleged CIA analysis that claims the Russians wanted Trump to win that Brennan was woofing about back in November. One way of interpreting Panetta’s interview is as a peace offering by CIA insiders to Trump. Let bygones be bygones. We won’t say mean stuff about you and you’ll call off the dogs.
Will it work? My suspicion is that this will fall in the “too little, too late” category. Over the weekend we saw a senior NSC staffer fired for talking smack about Trump and his family. I can’t imagine anyone will be in the mood to let this slide. And, for the good of he nation, Trump should not let it slide. The intel community has now become like that dog that has tasted human blood. You can’t ever completely trust it not to bite you again. Trump really needs to turn the FBI’s counterintelligence team loose on the CIA, he needs to send some people to jail, and he needs to teach them that they are the servants, not the master, of the people and their elected officials.