WASHINGTON — President Trump praised Gina Haspel as the seventh director of the Central Intelligence Agency at a swearing-in ceremony on Monday, just hours after accusing the fifth director of the CIA director of disgracing the office and engaging in a "political hit job" against him.
In comments less than three hours apart, Trump lamented what he said was the destruction of faith in the intelligence community, and called the CIA "the most elite intelligence professionals on the planet Earth."
That juxtaposition highlights Trump's uneasy relationship with intelligence agencies, which serve as the president's eyes and ears around the world but are also investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election that Trump won.
On Twitter Sunday, Trump ordered an investigation into whether the FBI infiltrated his campaign to spy on him, leading to the now wide-ranging investigation into whether the campaign colluded with Russian agents to influence the election. Then on Monday, he accused former CIA director John Brennan of being "the genesis of this whole debacle."
“John Brennan is panicking," Trump tweeted Monday, quoting conservative radio host Dan Bongino. "He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community. He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community and in some people at the FBI."
Trump has accused Brennan — now an MSNBC commentator who's been critical of Trump on a wide range of issues — of being among "the biggest liars and leakers" in Washington. Also on Trump's liars and leakers list: Former FBI director James Comey, whom he fired for not exonerating him in the Russia probe, and former director of national intelligence James Clapper.
Trump and his conservative allies have stepped up their counteroffensive against the FBI and CIA in recent months as Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates the Russian question. Trump has maintained there was no collusion, and has alleged — without providing evidence — that the Obama administration initiated the investigation for political purposes.
The Justice Department referred that question to its inspector general Sunday after Trump demanded an investigation via Twitter.
But as he presided over Haspel's initiation ceremony at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Trump gave few hints of his problems with the FBI and CIA.
He praised House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes — one of a number of House GOP leaders pushing for the FBI to reveal its sources in the investigation into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian agents — as "a very courageous man."
But he saved most of his praise for Haspel, who becomes the first woman to lead the nation's most prominent spy agency.
"Our enemies will take note: Gina is tough, she is strong, and when it comes to defending America, Gina will never ever back down," Trump said. "The exceptional men and women of this agency deserve exceptional leadership, and in Gina Haspel that is exactly what you are getting."
The swearing-in ceremony came four days after the Senate ended a weeks-long confirmation battle by approving her in a 54-45 vote.
Haspel, a 61-year-old career intelligence officer who has spent most of her time undercover, oversaw a secret "black site" in Thailand where suspected terrorists were subjected to waterboarding. In 2005, she also wrote an order at her supervisor's request to destroy 92 videotapes of the torture techniques.
Among the stops in her 33-year resume at the agency — mostly undercover — was a stint overseeing U.S. spies in Russia in the 1990s. In her testimony this month, Haspel gave a three-word response when Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked whether she agreed with the 2016 intelligence report finding that Russians interfered in the presidential campaign.