As President Donald Trump went to CIA headquarters over the weekend to mend fences with the intelligence community, a major Wall Street Journal scoop was making the rounds alleging an intelligence probe into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with Russia. The crux of the story—that the intelligence community was investigating whether Flynn violated laws by speaking to the Russian ambassador on the day that President Obama imposed new sanctions—was quickly assimilated into the prevailing narrative about the Trump team’s alleged ties to Russia.
But as even Josh Marshall points out at Talking Points Memo, there was not much to the substance of the allegations:
In other words, based on this article, we cannot say that Flynn is being investigated. The scrutiny may have concluded. It may have found nothing amiss. It is also important to note that counter-intelligence investigations operate by very different rules from criminal investigations, though they may become criminal investigations.
While the story lacks any smoking gun about Trump’s Russia ties—it remains on the level of unsubstantiated rumor—Marshall goes on to point out the degree to which a deeply dysfunctional relationship has developed between the intelligence community and the new administration.
Several recent stories bear this point out. Israel’s Ynetnews, for instance, ran an ambiguously-sourced piece indicating that visiting American intelligence officials warned the Israelis against sharing overly sensitive intelligence with the new administration, lest it reach the Iranians via Russia. A Times of London report suggested that British intelligence has been seeking reassurances from the CIA that the identity of its Russian agents would stay safe under Trump. And a Politico article published Saturday considered the possibility that the spy agency most closely partnered with Washington may now look skeptically on sharing intelligence with their American counterparts:
Current and former European officials contacted by POLITICO were cautious in their comments, noting that it is still too soon to tell how Trump will act as president. Some, however, hinted at the possibility of shifts in intelligence sharing under Trump. One suggested it could come down to what their U.S. counterparts communicate with them about how they think the president is doing.
With this as background, it’s clear why going to Langley was a priority for President Trump after inauguration. Whether his speech, which attempted to pin the blame wholly on the media, did the trick is not clear. Trump’s own statements and threats about the IC—accusing it of amateurishness and unprofessional behavior, and threatening purges—when seen against the background of an election where accusations of collusion with Moscow consistently swirled around the campaign, certainly contributed to the bad blood.
In any case, one speech (even a tremendous speech) will not be enough. With Mike Pompeo now confirmed and sworn in as CIA chief, the real work of rebuilding trust begins. In today’s dangerous and confusing world, that process can’t come soon enough.
Washington Post: “FBI reviewed Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit“