Political News

Trump Swears in Haspel at CIA, Saluting Its ‘Exceptional’ Officers

Posted May 21, 2018 9:14 p.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2018 9:21 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump praised Gina Haspel on Monday as she was sworn in as the director of the CIA, congratulating her on becoming the first woman to lead what he called “the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet.”

Despite the president’s relentless assault on what he perceives as the intelligence community’s improper actions as part of the investigations into his presidential campaign, Trump praised Haspel and the agency she is about to lead.

Trump lauded the “exceptional men and women of this agency,” adding: “I see what you do. I understand what you do, and it’s incredible.”

The president’s brief remarks were strikingly different from those he delivered on his first visit to the agency the day after his inauguration, when he stood in front of a memorial to fallen intelligence officers and delivered an angry political diatribe against the news media, Democrats and others who questioned the size of his inaugural crowd.

But even as Haspel took over as CIA director, conservatives and some Trump allies were accusing her of being part of the “deep state” conspiracy that the president repeatedly claims has been conducting a “witch hunt” against him.

Publicly and privately, Trump supporters have been raising questions about Haspel’s loyalty to the president, and urging — without providing any evidence — an examination of what she knew about the intelligence community’s efforts to connect Trump to Russia.

In particular, they have questioned whether Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the spy agency who was the CIA’s station chief in London, knew of the FBI’s highly secretive interview of an Australian diplomat in London, and was aware that the bureau used an informant to gather information there from Trump associates about possible Russian coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Who was the CIA London Station Chief in 2016?” Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist with a large Twitter following, asked in a tweet last week. “Gina Haspel.”

In a letter last week, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., asked Haspel if the CIA had been involved in spying on Trump or if the agency had cooperated with foreign intelligence services to monitor Trump in the years before he officially became a candidate.

It is unclear how much Haspel knew about the FBI activities, which were part of a counterintelligence operation that the FBI dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” or when she was made aware of them. But it is standard procedure for the station chief in a major city to be briefed on any major bureau activities in her territory.

“Anything that affects the intelligence community you would first get the agency’s concurrence through the chief of station,” said Eugene Casey, a former agent who spent more than five years overseas for the FBI.

A U.S. official said Monday that Haspel was not fully briefed at the time on the FBI’s use of an informant in London to gather information about Trump associates or on its plan to interview the Australian diplomat. The existence of the bureau’s Russia investigation was one of the most closely-held secrets in the FBI and Justice Department.

But just the possibility that Haspel knew of the informant in the Russia probe is enough for some conspiracy theorists to accuse Haspel of being part of the anti-Trump intelligence bureaucracy they believe is arrayed against the president and his agenda.

Frank Gaffney Jr., of the Center for Security Policy, was particularly angry at the comments Haspel made during her confirmation hearings about whether she would follow a presidential order she considered immoral (she said she would not).

He also complained that Haspel, whose nomination was supported by a cross-section of former intelligence officials, was “being strongly recommended for that job by men who have used the CIA and/or other elements of the intelligence community as deep state weapons to try to destroy him, his campaign and his administration.”

Haspel’s critics are also wary of her connections to John Brennan, the CIA director during the Obama administration who Trump assailed in a series of angry tweets Monday morning, before heading to the CIA for Haspel’s swearing-in ceremony. Brennan has supported Haspel throughout her career and backed her bid to become the director.

Just hours before his visit to the CIA on Monday, Trump lashed out against Brennan, quoting a Fox News contributor who says Brennan “is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community.”

Trump used the power of his Twitter account to amplify remarks from Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator, who alleged on Fox that Brennan used an intelligence dossier to begin an illegitimate investigation of the Trump campaign.

“This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle," the president tweeted to his 52 million followers, quoting Bongino’s television appearance. "This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation.”