WASHINGTON — When the president of the United States sides with a murderous dictator over our own CIA, you would think it would be big news. When that dictator is a communist who has threatened the United States with missile attacks, you would think leaders of the Republican Party might be at least a little agitated.
But Tuesday’s news narrative was dominated by President Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s overlapping visits to Iowa, setting up the Cornfield Clash. So little else penetrated. As for Republicans, they long ago pawned their consciences and their integrity for tax cuts and judges. A dictator-loving president who has repeatedly attacked the FBI and the CIA hasn’t bothered them up to now, so why would this latest outrage make any difference?
Before he hit the trail, Trump spoke to reporters outside the White House and once more waxed rhapsodic about his love affair with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He was smitten by a “beautiful letter” he got from his dear friend who happens to have much blood on his hands.
“I can’t show you the letter, obviously,” Trump said. Why “obviously”? We are a democratic republic where the citizens have a right to know, right? Oops, I forgot, Trump doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.
He added that it “was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter.” Ah, love! And as if he were eyeing North Korea for a new Trump resort, the president declared: “North Korea has tremendous potential, and he’ll be there.” Kim is “the one that feels that more than anybody,” and underscoring just how wise the dear leader is, Trump concluded: “He totally gets it.”
Swipe at CIA
Then came the swipe at the CIA. Unprompted, Trump obliquely referred to the news that Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, who was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia in 2017, had been a CIA source, which was first reported by The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield in her book “The Great Successor.” Trump seemed bent on assuring his autocrat friend that he would never try to spy on him.
Here’s what Trump said: “I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother, or half brother. And I would tell him” — the “him” meaning Kim Jong Un — “that would not happen under my auspices.” Really? Trump prefers to fly blind?
It appears we are so dulled to Trump’s daily disgraces that we’re letting this one pass. The president of the United States is effectively scolding our intelligence services for doing their jobs. He’s saying to an adversary: Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Our terrible agents won’t trouble you again.
Not for the first time, we have to ask whether any allied foreign intelligence service can trust us with information — and what risks a would-be informant will take on our behalf. Such a source might well ponder if Trump would send a “personal, very warm” letter to one of his dictator friends outing our covert ally. And how much information can our CIA share with our commander in chief?
Inadvertently, Trump, who spent a lot of time during his White House encounter with reporters trashing Biden, brought home the former vice president’s message of the day.
“The president,” Biden said in Ottumwa, Iowa, “is literally an existential threat to America.”
— Twitter: @EJDionne.