Former CIA director John Brennan, a frequent critic of Donald Trump, weighed in Monday on a variety of national security topics at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Brennan expressed concern about Trump’s susceptibility to flattery by foreign leaders and penchant for name-calling in the “twittersphere” as being unproductive to American foreign policy, specifically as it relates to North Korea.
Before his appearance in the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture series, Brennan was asked about Trump calling him and others “political hacks.”
“I worked in the government for 33 years. I worked for Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. Six of them, in fact. I respected and admired all of them, even though I didn’t agree with all their policies. Each put country before self. I am not a Republican nor a Democrat,” Brennan said.
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“I took great offense to Donald Trump referring to my colleagues Jim Comey and Jim Clapper as political hacks, particularly on Veterans Day, when Jim Clapper, a real treasure of this country, served for 50 years both in uniform and as a civilian on behalf of this country,” Brennan said.
Comey is the former FBI director who was fired by Trump, and Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general who served as director of national intelligence during the Obama administration.
It is important that the intelligence community be as unbiased and nonpolitical as possible, and that the director of the CIA be able to “speak truth to power,” Brennan said, adding he thinks Trump is in many respects abusing the separation of powers and his office.
Brennan was asked about a statement by current CIA director Mike Pompeo that he wished that the Obama administration had taken Russian interference in the American election as seriously as the Trump administration.
We need individuals at the helm of government who take their responsibilities seriously and who carry out their duties with competency.
John Brennan, former director of the CIA
“Well, I disagree with Mike Pompeo on that,” Brennan said, adding that Pompeo was not a member of the Obama administration or a senior member of the House intelligence committee. “He knows not of what he speaks.”
Brennan said he is confident that investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees into Russian interference in the U.S. election will reveal whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, “witting or unwitting.”
Brennan said he worries about the rise of authoritarian governments in the world and an increase in populism over better thought-out policy decisions.
“We need individuals at the helm of government who take their responsibilities seriously and who carry out their duties with competency,” he said.
Brennan also discussed challenges by China and Russia.
Vladimir Putin still carries a grudge about the downfall of the Soviet Union and wants to thwart or check the United States at every opportunity, Brennan said.
“He is ruthless and cunning, but more of a checkers player than a chess player,” Brennan said.
In contrast, Xi Jinping, the leader of China, is more of a chess player and has a more dynamic economy and faster-growing military to work with than Putin, Brennan said.
One area of concern that requires more work is cyber threats, Brennan said.
Congress should establish an independent committee to study cybersecurity over the next few years and look at all the threats and opportunities, he said.
Russia has meddled in U.S. elections before, but in 2016 it was a much more sophisticated and intense effort, he said.
The Russians didn’t believe Trump would win the election, but sought to wound Hillary Clinton so that when elected, she would be a weakened president, Brennan said.
The United States is an exceptional country with exceptional responsibilities in the world, Brennan said. “I am hoping we won’t be pulling back from our very solemn responsibilities.”