WASHINGTON On the first full day as U.S. president, Donald Trump will head to CIA headquarters on Saturday, signaling an effort to mend fences after he slammed spy agencies for their investigation into Russian hacking during the presidential election.
Trump engaged in an unprecedented feud with the CIA and U.S. intelligence agencies before his inauguration, but his spokesman Sean Spicer suggested that Trump would bear friendlier greetings when he speaks with more than 300 people at the event at the Langley, Virginia-based Central Intelligence Agency.
“Excited to thank the men and women of the intelligence community,” White House spokesman Spicer said on Twitter. It was not immediately clear what time Trump would travel to the CIA.
Trump harshly criticized intelligence officials after they concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed hackers to breach Democratic emails to try to boost Trump’s presidential election campaign.
He accused intelligence agencies of engaging in tactics reminiscent of Nazi Germany, for leaks about an unsubstantiated dossier compiled by a private security firm suggesting Moscow had compromising information about him.
That drew an unusual public rebuke from outgoing CIA Director John Brennan and raised fears about the impact that sagging morale at the agencies could have on U.S. security.
The visit is a “good gesture,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA and White House official, now at the Brookings Institution think-tank. Riedel said the visit may help Trump learn more about the agency’s counterterrorism work.
WILL TAKE TIME TO HEAL
But others said it may take time to heal the wounds caused by the fight, giving concerns – widely shared in the 17-agency intelligence community – about the qualifications and judgment, of Trump, a businessman and television star who has never held public office.
“While a Saturday visit is unusual – my view is that there is not a moment to waste in trying to repair relations with the agency,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.
Some veteran analysts who have spent their careers studying foreign dictators and autocrats have said they are troubled by Trump’s style, saying his negativity, egotism, and appeals to nationalism are hallmarks of autocratic regimes.
“Many people are asking whether we can serve under a president and national security adviser who’ve expressed such contempt for the intelligence community, and one photo opportunity drive-by on a Saturday is not going to change that,” said a veteran officer now working at CIA headquarters after multiple assignments overseas, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It will be interesting to see how many people leave their houses and jump in their cars to drive to headquarters on their day off to make the crowd look bigger for someone who’s compared them to Nazis,” said a second serving intelligence officer.
MONTHS BEFORE PUTIN MEETING
Trump, who has said he wants to try to work with Moscow to fight Islamic State militants and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, has since accepted the conclusions of the election hacking investigation.
Trump had originally hoped to swear in his new CIA chief during the visit to the spy agency. But the Senate has not yet confirmed his pick, Kansas Republican Representative Mike Pompeo, for the job. That vote is expected on Monday.
The relationship between Washington and Moscow frayed after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, prompting new U.S. economic sanctions. Former U.S. President Barack Obama also blamed Putin for prolonging Syria’s bloody civil war.
Putin is ready to meet Trump but a meeting would take months to prepare, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.
“This will not be in coming weeks, let’s hope for the best – that the meeting will happen in the coming months,” Peskov told BBC, according to TASS.
NO TIME TO WASTE
In a long day of pomp and ceremony on Friday, Trump – a real estate mogul who has never held office – was officially sworn in as the 45th U.S. president, and celebrated with his family at three balls late into the night.
But he squeezed in a hastily arranged Oval Office ceremony to sign an order to weaken Obamacare, using his first hours in the White House to make good on a campaign promise to start dismantling his predecessor’s healthcare law.
Trump won his campaign with an often-angry anti-establishment pledge to crack down on illegal immigration and protect U.S. jobs, but his upstart message sparked a series of protests around the world.
On Saturday, large crowds of women, many wearing bright pink knit hats, poured into downtown Washington for a march on the National Mall, which was filled with Trump supporters only a day earlier.
He began the day by attending the National Prayer Service, an interfaith service traditionally held the morning after inauguration.
Trump’s motorcade weaved past handfuls of protesters as well as supporters as it drove to and from the National Cathedral. One jogger along the route lifted both of his middle fingers as he was running.
Near the White House people held signs including “Hate does not make America great” and “Women’s rights are human rights.”
(Additional reporting by John Walcott; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Franklin Paul and Alistair Bell)