Members of President Trump’s inner circle charged Sunday that former CIA director John O. Brennan is trying to undermine the relationship between the new administration and the intelligence community on his way out the door.
Escalating the war of words on Sunday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Mr. Brennan is beginning to sound like a “partisan political hack” with his repeated public criticisms of the new president after the former director reportedly called Mr. Trump’s postinaugural visit to the CIA’s Langley headquarters a “despicable display of self-aggrandizement.”
“Do you think what [the] outgoing CIA director said yesterday in a statement using the vocabulary, the language he used about our new president of the United States somehow ‘improves our relationship with the intelligence community’?” Ms. Conway said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It is irresponsible. It is reprehensible. And it is totally unnecessary.”
Mr. Trump made his first official visit to the CIA on Saturday in order to show his support for and clear the air with the intelligence community, following a series of damaging leaks during the presidential transition period. He said reports of a feud between his campaign and the intelligence services were the product of “dishonest” media reporting.
“I love you, I respect you, there’s nobody I respect more,” Mr. Trump told several hundred cheering workers who came in the Langley complex on a Saturday. “We’re going to start winning again, and you’re going to be leading the charge.”
Mr. Brennan, who was not retained by the new administration, said Mr. Trump’s remarks — which mixed praise for the agency with, among other topics, the media coverage of his inauguration and the number of times he had been on the cover of Time magazine — were inappropriate for the venue — in front of the agency’s Memorial Wall, which holds 117 stars honoring the men and women who have given their lives in the line of service.
“Former CIA director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Nick Shapiro, Mr. Brennan’s former deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself.”
It was the second scolding in as many weeks delivered by Mr. Brennan to the new president. Last week he took Mr. Trump to task for accusing the “intelligence” community of leaking damaging and false intelligence reports about him, comparing the situation to Nazi Germany.
He also said Mr. Trump doesn’t have a “full understanding” of the geopolitical threat posed by Russia.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Brennan would be wise to take his own advice — pointing to foreign policy failures under the Obama administration ranging from the Russian annexation of Crimea to the civil war in Syria. He also suggested the outgoing director may have personally been involved in the leaks.
“Is this the leaker of Fake News?” Mr. Trump tweeted.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reinforced those suspicions on Sunday.
“I think that John Brennan has a lot of things that he should answer for with regard to these leaked documents,” Mr. Priebus said. “I think perhaps he’s bitter.”
Acting CIA Director Meroe Park, a career CIA employee serving until former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo is confirmed for the top post, gave Mr. Trump a warm welcome on Saturday.
“The CIA’s relationship to our president has been essential to the nation’s strength and security,” she said.
But some echoed Mr. Brennan’s criticisms of the new president’s tone and choice of topics for the event.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, panned Mr. Trump for talking about the size of the crowd at his inauguration during his visit to Langley.
“I had hoped that President Trump’s visit to CIA today would mark the beginning of a new relationship between him and [the] intelligence community,” Mr. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said. “But while standing in front of the stars representing CIA personnel who lost their lives in the service of their country — hallowed ground — Trump gave little more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of their service and sacrifice.”
But Mr. Priebus insisted no one in the room was offended.
“I was there yesterday,” he said. “I’m telling you, it was a lovefest if you were in the room.”