In his first official act on his first full day as president, Donald Trump went to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency on Saturday and downplayed a rift with the U.S. intelligence establishment, telling assembled officers that “I am with you 1,000 percent.”
He indicated that he would unleash the agency in taking on America’s enemies, and suggested that in any future conflict in Iraq U.S. forces would take and seize oil fields.
“We have not used the real abilities that we have. We’ve been restrained,” Trump said, speaking before a wall bearing 117 stars representing CIA employees killed in the line of duty.
As Trump moved on to talk about U.S. enemies, however, he spent more time talking about the “dishonest” media than about Islamic State extremists entrenched in the Middle East and North Africa. He accused the media of lying about the size of the crowd on the National Mall during his inauguration ceremony Friday.
“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” Trump said in the talk, which was greeted by sporadic but enthusiastic applause.
He said he’d awoken Saturday to watch a television report that showed “an empty field” and reported that only 250,000 or so people had come to the National Mall in front of the Capitol to witness his swearing-in as 45th president.
Trump said the report was a categorical lie because he personally could observe people as far back as the Washington Monument.
It looked like a million, a million and a half people.
President Donald Trump, speaking of the crowd at his inauguration
“It looked like a million, a million and a half people,” Trump said, offering a crowd estimate that would make it one of the largest gatherings in Washington’s history, if it were true. Photographs of the event show otherwise, however; authorities did not offer a verified crowd estimate. Still, Trump’s pique displayed that numbers and size matter deeply to him.
The network, which he did not name, will not get off easily, he said. “We caught them in a beauty, and they are going to pay a big price,” Trump said. “I love honesty. I like honest reporting.”
Despite his demurrals, Trump has strained relations with sectors of the U.S. intelligence establishment, suggesting in recent weeks that former CIA Director John Brennan had leaked a once-secret dossier to the press alleging that Russia gained influence over his winning campaign. He also criticized the CIA’s role in past foreign policy quagmires, and in one tweet put the word intelligence in quotation marks.
His tone was far different Saturday.
“These are really special, amazing people. Very, very few people could do the job you people do,” he said, looking out at several hundred gathered at the headquarters. “I am so behind you, and I know maybe sometimes you haven’t gotten the backing that you’ve wanted. You’re going to get so much backing.”
Then he joked that they would soon say to him: “Please don’t give us so much backing. Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing!”
Probably everyone in this room voted for me. But I will not ask you to raise your hands if you didn’t.
President Donald Trump at the CIA
To scattered laughter, Trump said: “Probably everyone in this room voted for me. (pause) But I will not ask you to raise your hands if you didn’t.”
Trump said media portrayals of his friction with the CIA chief had been overblown.
“The reason you are the No. 1 stop is exactly the opposite. Exactly,” Trump said.
After Trump’s appearance at the CIA, which was televised, a senior aide to the Democratic National Committee, Zac Petkanas, issued a needling statement: “After he finished ranting about crowd sizes on the National Mall, I hope President Trump sat down for an interview with the CIA to help with their investigation into his team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to win the election. Next, he can sit down with the FBI who have sought warrants to monitor his team for the same reason.”
With the CIA’s help, Trump said, his administration would get rid of Islamic State extremists.
“Radical Islamic terrorism has to be eradicated, just off the face of the Earth. This is evil. This is evil,” Trump said. “You’re going to go to it, and you’re going to do a phenomenal job. And we’re going to end it. It’s time.”
Almost as a casual aside, Trump expressed regret that U.S. forces had not kept control of Iraqi oil fields after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion to oust then-dictator Saddam Hussein.
“The old expression, ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’ ” Trump said. “You remember? I always used to say, ‘Keep the oil.’ ”
He said he held that belief for economic reasons, then he looked at Mike Pompeo, the Kansas Republican legislator whom he’s tapped to become the next CIA director, who was seated in the audience.
We should have kept the oil.
President Donald Trump, speaking of Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion
“If you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS, because that’s where they made their money in the first place,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists by their acronym. “So we should have kept the oil.”
He suggested that such an error would not be made in the future.
“Maybe we’ll have another chance,” Trump said. “But the fact is we should have kept the oil.”
Unlike most other colonial powers in earlier centuries, the U.S. government did not routinely extract and seize natural resources as plunder in previous wars.