Gergen: Trump swings wildly at wrong target

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Story highlights

  • David Gergen: In combative news conference, Trump had good reason for anger over BuzzFeed allegations
  • Gergen: But Trump needlessly widened rift with intel community, slammed CNN report even though press has right to report news

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Once upon a time, America's new presidents enjoyed a honeymoon upon taking office -- think Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan and Obama. But after a wide ranging and often combative press conference Wednesday, it is obvious that the opening weeks of the Donald Trump presidency will be the stormiest of modern times.

Trump had good reason to be angry coming into the press arena. Over the past 24 hours, salacious, damning memos written by a former officer of the British MI 6 have flooded the Internet.
The 35 pages published by BuzzFeed are full of unverified allegations that the Russians have compromising information about Trump and that Trump advisers have been in cahoots with Putin's men. Trump was right to complain bitterly.
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    But, as he so often does, he started shooting wildly at the wrong targets. Once again, he attacked the intelligence community -- this time for leaking the memos to the press.
    How can he say for sure the Intel folks leaked the memos? The memos have been floating all over Washington for days if not weeks. Eight members of Congress got them in recent days, for example.
    As he answered reporters' questions at the news conference, Trump needlessly escalated his war against US intelligence, widening a dangerous rift with the very men and women whose reports will be vital to his day-to-day decision making.
    Trump was also far off base in his rampage against CNN, calling it a fake news organization and insulting its top people. Unlike BuzzFeed, which published the memos themselves, CNN purposely did not.
    Instead, it broke an important and legitimate news story -- that four of America's top intelligence chiefs last week informed President Obama, Trump and congressional leaders that the memos were in wide circulation.
    As one of CNN's reporters on the story, Carl Bernstein, has pointed out on CNN, Intel officials don't bring garbage to a president; they only bring what causes them real concern. Anyone who thinks that isn't real news does not understand the role of a free press.
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    There were other elements of the news conference that will spark more controversy in the days ahead. As impressive as Trump's lawyer, Sherri Dillon, was in defending Trump's efforts to avoid conflicts of interest with his businesses, for example, big debates are still ahead.
    But what is now clear is that for all his strengths, Trump is bringing to the White House one of the most combative, intemperate personalities we have ever known. The press conference shows he ain't changing.