While attacking Michael Wolff’s bombshell “Fire and Fury” book, CIA Director Mike Pompeo tried to contradict its depiction of Trump as unfit for office. But what Pompeo did not say should keep the troubling questions alive.
Here’s much of the exchange between Pompeo and Fox News host Chris Wallace about “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” via Fox News’ transcript. Notice anything missing from Pompeo’s praise?
WALLACE: As CIA director, you give the president’s daily intelligence brief almost every morning, what do you see?
POMPEO: Yes, those statements [by Wolff] are just absurd, Chris. I mean, just pure fantasy. My personal experience—I was with the president yesterday at Camp David. I’m with him almost every day. When we talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world, complex issues, the president is engaged, he understands the complexity, he asks really difficult questions of our team at the CIA so that we can provide him the information that he needs to make good informed policy decisions.
And I watched him do that. I watched him take the information that the intelligence community delivers and translate that into policies that are of enormous benefit to America. Statements like the one Mr. Wolff made about how we all think about the president are just ridiculous on their face. They are frankly beneath the conversation this morning, Chris.
WALLACE: The author quotes an email that was supposedly representative of the view of one of the president’s top economic advisors, Gary Cohn. I’m going to put it up on the screen.
"Trump won’t read anything, not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored."
Now, back in May, you were quoted as saying that one of the ways you keep the president engaged in your intelligence briefings is with, quote, your words, killer graphics.
POMPEO: Yes, absolutely. I love color graphics. So do you, Chris. You use them on your screen all the time here on the show, right? It’s how you convey information.
This president reads material that we provide to him, he listens closely to his daily briefing. Different presidents, the previous president didn’t receive his briefing in that same way. He didn’t take up daily briefing from his CIA director. President Obama chose not to do that.
This president is an avid consumer of the work product that our team at the CIA produces and we do our best to convey that to him nearly every day.
What Pompeo did not say here is that Trump is informed and/or has a grasp of the substance. Pompeo said Trump “understands the complexity,” “reads the material” provided (which Pompeo admitted is via graphics) and “is an avid consumer of the [CIA’s] work product.” Pompeo never said anything like, “Rest assured, Trump is up to speed on world affairs and national security.”
Unfortunately, Wallace did not press Pompeo on that point nor on his statement that should have raised a question, “We do our best to convey [our work product] to him nearly every day.” According to Politico, Trump only gets briefings “about four mornings a week” and that those sessions have turned into "a free-flowing conversation during which he peppers his CIA director, former House member Mike Pompeo, with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress." Furthermore, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created to integrate intelligence collected across the many U.S. agencies. If Trump is only getting briefings from the CIA director - and we don't know how much of those are devoted to national security issues - who knows what he's missing?
Wallace’s next question even touched on Trump’s lack of interest in intelligence briefings before moving right along:
WALLACE: Now, a year ago, I asked the then president-elect during the transition about why it was that he was only taking an intelligence briefing about once a week. Here’s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, I’m like a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be eight years, but eight years. I don’t need that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: And yesterday morning, Mr. Trump fired back at questions about his mental fitness with this tweet.
"Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Not smart, but genius. And a very stable genius at that that!"
I say this respectfully, sir, and I understand your impatience with our dealing with the subject. The CIA does psychological profiles of world leaders routinely. What would you say about a world leader who refers to himself as a very stable genius?
POMPEO: Chris, I’m not going to dignify that question with a response.
This is a man who is leading the United States of America, and who engages with intelligence community in ways that are sophisticated. He deals with the most complex issues and has handled them in a way that I have great admiration and respect for. We’re keeping America safe and President Trump is completely capable of working alongside of us and leading us in that effort.
Again, Pompeo never praised Trump’s knowledge, his grasp of world events or even his curiosity. In fact, there were hints otherwise. This from a guy who is reportedly in the running to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Yet Wallace either didn’t notice or chose to look the other way.
Watch Pompeo parse his words below, from the January 7, 2018 Fox News Sunday.