Trump praises the CIA, bristles over inaugural crowd counts

LANGLEY, Va. — On his first full day in office, President Donald Trump Saturday berated the media over its coverage of his inauguration, and turned a bridge-building first visit to CIA headquarters into an airing of grievances about “dishonest” journalists. But it was Trump who spread inaccuracies about the size of the crowds at his swearing in.

Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents, Trump assured intelligence officials, “I am so behind you.” He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.

“There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and CIA than Donald Trump,” he said, blaming any suggestion of a “feud” on the media.

Trump’s decision to travel to CIA headquarters so quickly after taking office was seen as an attempt at a fresh start with the intelligence agencies he will now rely on for guidance as he makes weighty national security decisions. Following his private meeting with top CIA leaders, Trump said the U.S. had been “restrained” in its efforts to combat terrorism, calling the threat “a level of evil we haven’t seen.”

But in unscripted, stream-of-consciousness remarks, Trump appeared more focused on settling scores with the media.

He defensively touted the crowd size for his swearing-in ceremony, wrongly claiming that the throngs on the National Mall stretched “all the way back to the Washington Monument.” Photos and video clearly showed the crowd stopping well short of the landmark.

Trump’s visit took place as throngs of women, many of them wearing bright pink, pointy-eared hats, descended on the nation’s capital and other cities around the world for marches organized to push back against the president. Hundreds of protesters lined the motorcade route as Trump sped back to the White House, many screaming and chanting at the president.

The Washington rally alone attracted more than 500,000 people by the unofficial estimate of city officials. It appeared to be more people than attended Trump’s inauguration Friday, but there were no comparable numbers. The city did not release an estimate for the inauguration. The National Park Service does not provide crowd counts.

During his remarks at the CIA, the president claimed the inaugural crowds topped 1 million people, offering no evidence.

Suggestions that weak enthusiasm accompanied his inauguration clearly irked the new president. Shortly after his remarks, he dispatched his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to the White House briefing room to reinforce the message.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the media about holding Donald Trump accountable. And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable as well,” Spicer said in his first on-camera appearance at the White House.

Trump, and later Spicer, also slammed a Time magazine reporter for incorrectly reporting Friday that Trump had moved a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. out of the Oval Office. But Trump followed with a misstatement of his own, saying the reporter had not corrected the mistake. In fact, the item was quickly retracted.

High-level CIA brass stood largely silent during Trump’s remarks, though some of the roughly 400 other officers in attendance cheered on the president during his remarks.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed Trump for using his visit to squabble over media coverage.

“He will need to do more than use the agency memorial as a backdrop if he wants to earn the respect of the men and women who provide the best intelligence in the world,’ Schiff said.

The inaugural celebrations have been shadowed by reports that the CIA and federal agencies are investigating Russian interference in the presidential election on behalf of Trump. McClatchy reported the investigation included whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump. The New York Times said agencies were examining intercepted communications and financial transactions between Russian officials and Trump’s associates.