U.S. officials have confirmed to CBS News that Donald Trump’s team brought a literal cheering committee to his speech at CIA headquarters on Saturday and had them strategically seated in the very first three rows. About 40 individuals invited by Trump cheered on cue while he spoke, giving a misleading initial impression that it was CIA employees who were reacting favorably to Trump’s remarks.
CBS reported that CIA employees were “uncomfortable” with Trump’s visit, which “made relations with the intelligence community worse.” None of the CIA’s senior leadership cheered on Trump’s remarks.
The Trump Administration claimed that attendance to the event was so high that people were waiting to get inside the room. CBS reported that only 400 employees RSVP’d, despite the “thousands” who were reportedly invited.
But Trump’s seemingly warm reception might have been somewhat stage-managed, according to various accounts. The Washington Post’s longtime CIA watcher, Greg Miller, tweeted Saturday that the audience was “a self-selected bunch: CIA employees who signed up to come in on a Saturday to see the new POTUS. Mostly Trump voters.” A pool reporter selected to witness the closed event indicated “the cheering and clapping was not from the CIA staffers but people who accompanied Trump,” according to The Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler. He later clarified on Twitter that it was “unclear who the people on the side were. But the folks in the front apparently did not react until the end.”
A different pool reporter wrote that Trump initally received an enthusiastic response from the 400 attendees, but as his remarks “strayed…the cheering was coming primarily from stage right…where the rank and file employees were seated. The senior staff, seated directly in front of POTUS, was noticeably far more subdued.”
CIA Director John Brennan, who resigned on Friday, was “deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Trump should be ashamed of himself,” according to a statement provided by Brenna’s former deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro to Newsweek.
George Little, former CIA Director Leon Panetta’s spokesman, was also aghast at Trump’s rally-style event on what he considered to be hallowed ground at the agency, expressing his disgust in a Facebook post.
Today the president of the United States stood in front of the Memorial Wall honoring the CIA’s fallen and mocked key institutions of our democracy, threatened to steal Iraq’s oil, and used what is supposed to be a non-political government agency—one he recently accused of Nazi-style behavior—as a political backdrop. This will go down as the most disastrous speech ever given at CIA Headquarters.
“This wall is so special to me,” Trump said from his podium in front of it. “You’re going to get so much backing from me, you’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President, no more backing,’” Trump said to cheers and chuckles, presumably from his invited supporters.
This isn’t the first time Trump has manufactured his own applause
This isn’t the first time Trump reportedly brought along supporters to loudly cheer him on in an attempt to manipulate public perception. On January 11th at his first press conference since winning the election, Trump filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered on cue as he lambasted the media for spreading “fake news.” His paid aides also reportedly jeered sarcastically at reporters over questions asked about releasing his tax returns, something he had been promising to do since 2011. “Oh gee,” Trump said, visibly rolling his eyes, “I’ve never heard that before. The only ones who care about my tax returns are the reporters. I became president.”
The Greek chorus of loyal, paid staffers in the back of the room boosting Trump with their hoots and cheers also served as a reminder, of sorts, of the movement of Trump backers happy to take him at his word and jeer the media as the out-of-touch liars.
None of this should come as a surprise, as Trump kicked off his presidential campaign announcement in 2015 surrounded by a horde of paid actors. According to The Hollywood Reporter, actors were offered $50 each to cheer him on, and “homemade” signs were passed out to them before the event. Looking at his paid admirers, Trump remarked at the time: “There’s never been a crowd like this!”
— Megan Specia (@meganspecia) June 16, 2015
A curious, yet fitting epilogue is that a Federal Election Committee document showed that Trump didn’t even pay the casting company the $12,000 owed until October 8, 2015 — nearly four months after the firm provided its services to the Trump campaign.