Trump and the CIA

Borrowing From Nixon's Playbook

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, January 21, 2017. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Former U.S. President Richard Nixon did not mince his words when it came to the Central Intelligence Agency. He called it “disloyal,” “unproductive,” “over-staffed,” “not worth a damn,” and even asked, “What the hell do those clowns do out there in Langley?” The country’s combative new Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump has had similar words for the agency, branding U.S. intelligence officers as “disgraceful,” “politically motivated,” and “sick people” who spread fake news. Although commentators have been quick to point out key similarities between Trump and Nixon—for example, their ability to nurse a grudge, their obsession with conspiracies, their hatred of the press, their professed “outsider” status, and their willingness to fight for the ignored and forgotten “great silent majority”—few have yet probed the remarkable parallels in their relationship with America’s premier spy agency.


It is clear that Trump regards the CIA as a political enemy determined to undermine his credibility in the eyes of the American people. In his defense, during the election campaign, many senior intelligence officials publicly threw their weight behind his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and have since launched investigations into possible Russian ties to his campaign, his advisers, and his business interests. Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell even went on record to say that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin had recruited Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Throughout the presidential transition, and during the early days of his administration, Trump consistently attacked the CIA for sounding the alarm on Russian interference in the November election. Interestingly, Morell has now walked back his earlier suggestion of there being collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, with NBC News quoting him as saying, “There is smoke, but there is no fire—at all.” 

Trump’s surrogates, meanwhile, such as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, speak openly about embittered Obama holdovers at the CIA waging a rear-guard attack against the new president. When an unverified “

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