“I am with you 1,000%,” Trump said after receiving intelligence briefings from top officials at the headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
“There is nobody that feels stronger about the Intelligence Community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” he said to applause, noting the significance of his decision to make the agency his first official stop on his first full day as president.
“I am so behind you,” Trump continued, adding, “You’re going to get so much backing.”
Trump made his remarks in the lobby of CIA headquarters, in front of a memorial wall that features 117 stars honoring those CIA officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
“The wall behind me is very very special,” Trump said.
Trump’s visit is seen as part of a bid to mend fences after he strained relations with intelligence officials by repeatedly casting doubt on their assessment that Russia had carried out cyberattacks during the campaign. He also suggested that the intelligence community was leaking information about the investigation to the press, taking to twitter to slam the agency’s former director, John Brennan.
Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks at the CIA veered into political territory at times, something not typically seen in addresses to intelligence professionals and which drew a quick attack from Democrats.
The president also repeatedly slammed the media, saying, “I have a running war with the media” and accusing news organizations of misrepresenting the size of the crowds at his inauguration speech on Friday.
He talked about the number of times he has been on the cover of Time magazine.
Many of Trump’s lines were met by applause, though the CIA’s senior leadership did not clap at any of the politically tinged remarks.
The Democratic National Committee issued a statement shortly after Trump’s visit ripping the new president.
“After he finished ranting about crowd sizes on the National Mall, I hope President Trump sat down for an interview with the CIA to help with their investigation into his team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin to win the election,” said DNC Senior Adviser Zac Petkanas. “Next, he can sit down with the FBI who have sought warrants to monitor his team for the same reason.”
At the CIA, Trump blamed the “dishonest” media for the perceived rift with the Intelligence Community.
“CIA’s relationship with the president has been essential to our nation’s strength and security,” acting director Meroe Park said prior to introducing Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“I can assure you this new president and our entire team recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices of all of the men and women of the intelligence community of the United States of America,” Pence told the assembled group.
The visit comes amid questions regarding the status of Trump’s choice to run the agency, Rep. Mike Pompeo.
The CIA is currently being led by Park, lacking a permanent chief, as the Senate has delayed Pompeo’s confirmation vote until Monday, with Democrats citing concerns about his positions on surveillance and other issues.
Pompeo has encountered some controversy after he submitted responses to a Senate questionnaire where he said he would consider bringing back waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation measures under certain circumstances.
Republicans have slammed the delay, with Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas issuing a statement, saying, “The Democrats are obstructing the nomination of Mike Pompeo as CIA director for no good reason.”
“I hope the jihadists take the weekend off from trying to kill Americans,” Cotton added.