A presidential speech that was intended to thank the intelligence community quickly went off the rails Saturday as Donald Trump talked about himself, his inauguration crowd, the dishonest media and how great his party was.
Trump appeared at the CIA on his first official day as the 45th president after a rough few weeks where he’d heavily criticized the agency, blamed it for leaks and questioned their assessment that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election. In a brief 15-minute statement, Trump meandered, but without the kind of discipline or grace one might expect from the commander in chief.
“I am so behind you and I know maybe sometimes you haven’t gotten the backing that you’ve wanted and you’re going to get so much backing,” Trump told the intel community with whom he has feuded. “Maybe you’ll say, ‘don’t give us so much backing. Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing,’ But you’re going to have that, and I think everybody in this room knows it.”
It seemed at every turn, Trump would pivot to himself. As he talked about his choice to lead the CIA Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Trump noted that he himself was smart.
“I met him and I said, he is so good. Number one in his class at West Point. I know a lot about West Point, and I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics. In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at M.I.T. for 35 years, who did a fantastic job in so many ways,” Trump said. “He was an academic genius, and then they say, there’s Donald Trump, an intellectual, trust me, I’m like a smart person.”
Then, when he talked about wanting to help America win again, he noted how young he felt.
“When I was young and I feel young, I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39, somebody said, ‘Are you young? I said, ‘I think I’m young.’ You know, I was stopping when we were in the final month of the campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 35,000 people, 15,000, 19,000, from stop to stop,” Trump said. ” I feel young. When I was young, we were always winning things in this country. Would win with trade. Would win with wars. And at a certain age, I remember hearing from one of my instructors the United States has never lost a war. And then after that, it’s like, we haven’t won anything.”
It was a strange juxtaposition: a President, standing before the memorial wall at the CIA that honors the lives lost by agency officers as he talked about crowd size and his intelligence. According to the pool report, there were about 400 CIA employees at the agency Saturday. At first, the cheering came from across the crowd, but the pooler noted that as the speech continued, the senior officials in the front grew “subdued.”
“Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did but I guarantee a big portion because we’re all on the same wavelength,” Trump said.
Trump also couldn’t resist talking about his feud with the media.
“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you’re the number one stop is exactly the opposite,” Trump said. “We did a thing yesterday at the speech and everybody like the speech? But we had a massive field of people. You saw that. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.”