President Biden had the “former guy” very much on his mind Tuesday as he sought to contrast himself from predecessor President Trump on his first visit as president to an intelligence agency.
While addressing intelligence professionals during a trip to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, Mr. Biden expressed his support for their work and made it a point to say political concerns from the White House would not interfere with their work or their analytical judgments.
“I promise you, you will never see a time while I’m president of the United States when my administration tries to affect or alter your judgments about what you think the situation is,” Mr. Biden continued, clearly echoing many of the criticisms Democrats lodged against Mr. Trump during his term.
The address and the event marked a shift in tone from the days of Mr. Trump, who repeatedly found himself at odds with the intelligence community both individually and as a whole from virtually the first day he took office.
Mr. Trump accused the intelligence community of engaging in “Nazi” tactics, said its top leaders needed to go back to school, and famously said he knows more than leaders at the CIA and FBI.
Ensnared even before he was took office in an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, an investigation he repeatedly condemned as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Trump repeatedly clashed with the intelligence officials, calling them out on Twitter and labeling them as members of the “Deep State” working to undermine his administration.
As White House relations with the intelligence community deteriorated, Mr. Trump ran through four directors of national intelligence in four years.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday took a different tack, praising the intelligence community, saying their work was not partisan. He said their work will outlast his and future administrations. About 120 national intelligence workers attended the speech.
“You serve the American people no matter which political party holds Congress or the White House,” he said. “It is so vital that you are so free from any political pressure or partisan interference.”
During his visit to ODNI, the president met with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Director of National Counterterrorism Christine Abizaid.
Mr. Biden has already tasked the intelligence agencies to take a harder look at the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact or from a Chinese laboratory accident. The president has pledged to make the results of the analysis available to the public in the coming weeks.
The CIA is also investigating a series of unexplained illnesses linked to possible energy attacks, known as the Havana Syndrome. About 200 Americans posted in Havana and other overseas locations have possible symptoms and almost half the cases involve CIA officials or their relatives. Roughly 60 cases were linked to the Department of Defense and 50 cases have been tied to the State Department.
Mr. Biden said America needs the intelligence community’s “expertise” to solve these and other threats facing the country. He said he appreciated their work, even if they will never get adulation for their efforts.
He added that the American people don’t know or appreciate the many times their work has prevented disaster and saved lives.
“So much of the work you do is secret,” Mr. Biden said. “So many times you don’t get credit. But I want you to know: I know.”