Tuesday’s testimony was linked to the release of the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” a report to Congress that ranks threats to American national security from around the world and provides the public with an unclassified and up-to-date summary of the most pressing threats.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, had told lawmakers that North Korea’s leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.” He said that there was “some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization” in the country and that most of what it had dismantled was reversible. Mr. Trump is expected to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, next month.
Mr. Trump announced in December a plan to withdraw American troops from Syria after concluding that “we have won” against the Islamic State. Prominent members of his own party have denounced what Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, on Tuesday called “a precipitous withdrawal” of American troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
While it is unusual for a president to pick a fight with his intelligence chiefs, this is not the first time for Mr. Trump. After the 2016 election and before he took office in 2017, Mr. Trump was publicly skeptical of intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and he mocked intelligence agencies for their role in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
Mr. Trump also contradicted last year’s global threat assessment from senior intelligence officials, whom he had appointed to his administration. While his top intelligence officials warned about Russia’s continuing efforts to conduct influence operations, Mr. Trump continued to dismiss any notion that Russia had interfered in American elections.
Douglas H. Wise, a career C.I.A. official and former top deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Mr. Trump’s criticism of the intelligence chiefs threatened to corrupt the process. Intelligence officers do not like to be at odds with the president, he said, and Mr. Trump’s comments put them in an uncomfortable position.
“This is a consequence of narcissism but it is a strong and inappropriate public political pressure to get the intelligence community leadership aligned with his political goals,” Mr. Wise said. “The existential danger to the nation is when the policymaker corrupts the role of the intelligence agencies, which is to provide unbiased and apolitical intelligence to inform policy.”