The outgoing director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, had strong words for President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday, just days after the incoming commander in chief compared the US Intelligence Community to Nazis and repeatedly suggested that the CIA and others were actively working against him.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, Brennan suggested that Trump has much to learn about the dangers facing the country, and said he hopes that the next president will focus less on defending himself from slights on social media and more on the threats that the Intelligence Community is working to combat.
“What I think Mr. Trump has to understand is that this is more than being about him, and it's about the United States and our national security,” Brennan said. “And he has to make sure that now he's going to have the opportunity to do something for national security, as opposed to talking and tweeting, he's going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. national security interests are protected and are advanced.”
He said that he hopes Trump will get out of the habit of reacting spontaneously to events, whether major or trivial, without thinking through his position, hopefully with his advisers.
“Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” he said. “And so, therefore, when he speaks, when he reacts, just to make sure he understands that the implications and impact on the United States could be profound. Again, it's more than just about Mr. Trump, and it's about the United States of America.”
In a few days, he said, Trump will be “the most powerful person in the world in terms of sitting on top of the United States government,” adding, “I think he has to recognize that his words do have impact.”
And Brennan made it plain that he doesn’t believe Trump has, at this point, fully grasped the nature of the challenge in front of him. He appeared most concerned about Trump’s conciliatory attitude toward Russia. The president-elect spent months denigrating the Intelligence Community’s finding that the Kremlin ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individual Democrats in an effort to influence the US presidential election.
On Wednesday, Trump finally admitted that he accepted the evidence that Russia had perpetrated the hack, though he and his team continue to downplay the impact of the steady stream of leaked documents that dominated coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the final month of the campaign.
Brennan, on Sunday, didn’t seem convinced that Trump has truly absorbed the intelligence agencies’ finding that Russian meddling in the election process was a major and unprecedented attack on US Democracy. He also sounded concerned about Trump’s appreciation of Russia’s new role on the world stage.
“I don't think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia's intentions, and actions that they are undertaking in many parts of the world,” Brennan said.
That will be part of the job facing US intelligence agencies in the coming months, he said, as Trump makes decisions about how to respond -- or not -- to the Kremlin’s provocations. “What we need to do is make sure that Mr. Trump and vice president-elect. Mr. Pence, understand exactly what it is that we know, what we have intelligence about, so that when they make those decisions, it will be -- they will be informed decisions.
Wallace asked if he is concerned that the incoming Trump administration might act quickly to remove economic sanctions that were put in place against Russia for its election attacking as well as its invasion of Ukraine.
“I think he has to be mindful that he does not yet have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road, as well as making sure he understands what he's doing,” the CIA director said.
Wallace asked Brennan to address Trump’s claim that intelligence agencies may have been responsible for leaking a dubious dossier of supposed compromising information on Trump, including reported video of the president-elect in engaging in potentially embarrassing sexual activity. (The dossier had, in fact, been in the possession of news outlets for months, dating back to before Trump’s unexpected election victory on November 8.)
“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out be so false and fake out,” Trump said Wednesday. “I think it's a disgrace, and I say that and I say that and that something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
Brennan called Trump’s comparing the intelligence agencies to Nazis “outrageous” and pointed out that the documents in question were already circulating.
“I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” he said.
He said that it is vital to establish a strong relationship of Trust between the incoming president and the intelligence services. “I think the world is watching now what Mr. Trump says, and listening very carefully. If he doesn't have confidence in the intelligence community, what signal does that send to our partners and allies, as well as our adversaries?”