US intelligence agencies are said to be keeping some sensitive information away from President Donald Trump over concerns about potential leaks, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night.
Specifically, officials cited by The Journal said they were hesitant to reveal to Trump the “sources and methods” that intelligence agencies use to collect sensitive information.
That is not an unusual departure from protocol, Journal writers Shane Harris and Carol Lee reported. Intelligence officials sometimes withhold details from the president and other high-level government leaders to protect a source, the officials said.
But the newspaper cited unnamed current and former US officials who told The Journal their hesitations were due in part to lingering questions over possible links between Trump associates and Russia, which they said could compromise the security of such classified information.
A representative for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied The Journal’s report in a statement on Wednesday night, saying “any suggestion that the US intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.”
Trump has had a tenuous relationship with the intelligence community since his election. The people interviewed by The Journal said that was one of the reasons for their reluctance to share their methods of collecting sensitive data.
Trump has frequently alternated between railing against US spy agencies and then praising them, as he did in January during an appearance at the CIA headquarters shortly after his inauguration. He has accused the same agencies of pursuing “politically motivated” investigations, on the other hand, as they concluded that Russia tried to interfere in the US election.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with The Journal that the intelligence community considered protecting its sources and the people cultivating them to be “their most sacred obligation.”
Schiff added, referring to Trump: “I’m sure there are people in the community who feel they don’t know where he’s coming from on Russia.”
Trump’s apparent distrust of US spy agencies has manifested in his public statements — most recently on Wednesday, when he described “intelligence” leaking classified information “like candy” as “very un-American.”
During a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump reprised his criticisms of intelligence leaks, calling it “a criminal act” while vigorously defending his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Flynn resigned on Monday over fallout from a phone call he had with a Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration, during which he discussed US sanctions.
Trump lobbed a familiar accusation at those who have raised questions about the controversies roiling his administration — that they were bitter about Hillary Clinton losing the election.
“This is not about who won the election. This is about concerns about institutional integrity,” Mark Lowenthal, a former senior intelligence official, told The Journal.
“It’s probably unprecedented to have this difficult a relationship between a president and the intelligence agencies,” Lowenthal said. “I can’t recall ever seeing this level of friction. And it’s just not good for the country.”
For its part, the White House told the newspaper: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”