When President Trump called in his State of the Union address for legislation that would allow crime victims to sue sanctuary cities for offenses committed by undocumented immigrants, CIA Director Gina Haspel rose to her feet, clapping. It was an unusual display of partisan spirit for the nation’s top intelligence officer, especially as it concerned a domestic law enforcement issue, an area where the agency is forbidden by law from acting.
It was “not right” for Haspel to attend the speech, much less applaud it, said Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as director of central intelligence under President George W. Bush. Bruce Riedel, the CIA’s former Saudi Arabia station chief, was similarly categorical. “It is odd that a DCI who avoids public appearances of any kind would make a public appearance at the most fractious SOTU in our time,” he told me in an email. “The job is being more politicized than it should be.”
Haspel was not required to attend the State of the Union. The CIA director is not even a Cabinet officer, noted ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou. “Why was she even there, much less in a seat of honor, up front?” he said in an interview. “The joint chiefs don’t applaud. The Supreme Court justices don’t applaud. The CIA director shouldn’t, either.”
Haspel’s appearance raises the unsettling possibility that Trump, for all his denunciations of the “deep state,” might have an ally at the top of the CIA. With Attorney General Bill Barr fulfilling Trump’s whims at the Justice Department, a compliant intelligence director in Langley would enhance Trump’s ability to pursue worse whims—including, potentially, foreign aid to his political and personal fortunes.