Donald Trump has not been a fan of the intelligence community. For months, he denied – over and over and over again – the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russian government actors were behind the WikiLeaks targeting Hillary Clinton. Now, Trump accuses the intelligence community of leaking information about a confidential briefing. Trump went on a rampage on Twitter against the intelligence community over the leaks:
Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
Trump says that briefing did not include information from the now-infamous BuzzFeed report that accused Trump of being in bed (or peeing on the bed) with the Russians; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggests that Trump was informed of such reports, and says that the intelligence community was not responsible for the leaks.
So, is the intelligence community at war with Trump?
If so, that’s no shock. Commentators have said for months that anyone who attacks the intelligence community will find themselves on the wrong end of nasty leaks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) threatened Trump: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday to get back at you. So, even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he is being really dumb to do this.” And the left has accused the intelligence community of tossing the election to Trump as a way of targeting Hillary Clinton thanks to FBI Director James Comey’s announcement a week and a half before the election that Hillary’s emails were still under investigation.
This is actually frightening stuff. The intelligence community isn’t its own government. Independent executive agencies that have access to classified information are inherently dangerous; they require a high level of trust to function well in a democracy. Pitting them against democratically-elected political actors is a recipe for destroying both the credibility of the intelligence community and the credibility of those government actors. It creates the perception that a shadow government has the power to destroy politicians, and that they’re willing to do so.
And it appears such fear isn’t ill-founded. According to The Guardian, “the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials.” Is that legitimate? We don’t know. Is it revenge on Trump for his constant stream of criticism of the intelligence community? We don’t know.
The gap growing between Trump and the intelligence community could cripple his presidency. It could also cripple our intelligence community. Most of all, it could cripple trust Americans have in government and the people tasked with keeping us safe.