LANGLEY, Va. (AP) — President Donald Trump moved to repair his tumultuous relationship with America’s spy agencies on his first full day in office, but his bridge-building visit to CIA headquarters Saturday quickly morphed into a platform for the new commander in chief to complain about media coverage of his inauguration, misstating the size of his crowd.
Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents, Trump assured intelligence officials, “I am so behind you.” He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.
“There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and CIA than Donald Trump,” he said, blaming any suggestion of a “feud” on the media.
Trump’s decision to travel to CIA headquarters so quickly after taking office was seen as an attempt at a fresh start with the intelligence agencies he will now rely on for guidance as he makes weighty national security decisions. Following his private meeting with top CIA leaders, Trump said the U.S. had been “restrained” in its efforts to combat terrorism, calling the threat “a level of evil we haven’t seen.”
Trump’s visit to the CIA took place as throngs of women, many of them wearing bright pink, pointy-eared hats, descended on the nation’s capital and other cities around the world for marches organized to push back against the new president. Hundreds of protesters lined the motorcade route as Trump sped back to the White House, many screaming and chanting at the president.
The president appeared to be focused on settling scores with the media.
He defensively touted the crowd size for his swearing-in ceremony, inaccurately claiming that the throngs on the National Mall stretched “all the way back to the Washington Monument.” Photos and video clearly showed the crowd stopping well short of the landmark.
Trump is a voracious consumer of news and highly sensitive to criticism. As a candidate, he repeatedly disparaged the media and individual journalists to the delight of his supporters, and his appearance at the CIA underscored that he would continue to do so as president.
He slammed a Time magazine reporter for incorrectly reporting Friday that Trump had moved a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. out of the Oval Office. But Trump followed with a misstatement of his own, saying the reporter had not corrected the mistake. In fact, the item was quickly retracted.
High-level CIA brass stood largely silent during Trump’s remarks, though some of the roughly 400 other officers in attendance cheered on the president during his remarks.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed Trump for using his CIA visit to squabble over media coverage.
“He will need to do more than use the agency memorial as a backdrop if he wants to earn the respect of the men and women who provide the best intelligence in the world,’ Schiff said.
The inaugural celebrations have been shadowed by reports that the CIA and other federal agencies are investigating Russian interference in the presidential election on behalf of Trump. McClatchy reported that the investigation included whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump. The New York Times said agencies were examining intercepted communications and financial transactions between Russian officials and Trump’s associates.
FBI Director James Comey has declined to confirm or describe the nature of the government’s investigation, both during a congressional hearing and in closed-door meetings with members of Congress.
Officials said the crowd for the women’s march in Washington could be more than half a million people, more than double expectations. The event appeared to have attracted more people than Trump’s inauguration, based on figures from transportation officials.
During his remarks at the CIA, the president claimed the inaugural crowds topped 1 million people.
Saturday marked the end of three days of inaugural celebrations, with Trump and his family attending a national prayer service traditionally held for the new president. The president and his wife, Melania, and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, sat in a front pew at Washington National Cathedral for the morning service.
The interfaith service is a tradition for new presidents and is hosted by the Episcopal parish. But the decision to hold a prayer session for Trump sparked debate among Episcopalians opposed to his policies.
Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington wrote in a blog post that while she shared “a sense of outrage at some of the president-elect’s words and actions,” she felt an obligation to welcome all people without qualification, especially those who disagree and need to find a way to work together.
Trump arrived at the cathedral mid-morning. The service included readings and prayers from Protestant, Jewish, Sikh, Mormon, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Baha’i, Episcopal, Hindu and Native American leaders. But the program was remarkable for the large number of evangelicals participating, including two former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest evangelical denomination. Several speakers had served as Trump advisers and supporters who spoke at the Republican National Convention.
The president’s family joined him at the White House for his first weekend in office. His daughter Ivanka and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, were seen snapping photos Saturday on the Truman balcony with a young girl who appeared to be their daughter.
The Justice Department released a memo concluding the president’s “special hiring authority” allows the New York real estate mogul to appoint Kushner to the administration and the move does not contravene federal anti-nepotism laws.