Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responded Monday to the long march of GOP national security officials who have rejected him to endorse Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by touting a new turncoat of his own: James Woolsey, President Bill Clinton’s former CIA director.
But in announcing Woolsey’s support, the Trump campaign omitted mention that the former top U.S. spy resigned in 1994 following widespread criticism he’d mishandled the CIA’s discovery of double agent Aldrich H. Ames, who was convicted of spying for Moscow for nearly nine years.
President Clinton reportedly did not protest when Woolsey, the CIA’s first post-Cold War director stepped down after two years in charge. CIA officials had not only failed to discover Ames, but also promoted him as the agent gave secrets to Soviet officials from April 1985 to his arrest in February of 1994. After Ames was exposed, Woolsey himself called the scandal that rocked the CIA a “systemic failure.”
But on Monday, Woolsey rapped Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, saying she “lacks the ability to lead her senior managers while complying with, and maintaining, the basic protocols designed to protect our government’s sensitive and classified information.”
“Mr. Trump understands the magnitude of the threats we face and is holding his cards close to the vest,” he continued, finishing with military jargon: “Bravo Zulu, Mr. Trump.”
In 12 years of working for Republican and Democratic administrations alike, Woolsey also served as ambassador to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe for two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union and as an at-large delegate to the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reductions Talks. That context provides some irony for his choice to back Trump in the 2016 election.
Though the New York real estate magnate’s campaign has been beset by reports of business ties to Kremlin cronies, it has continued to push a more friendly foreign policy toward Moscow.
Trump has said he may not defend NATO allies against a Russian invasion and that the U.S. should work with Russia as an ally, including in Syria. He also consistently expresses personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent whose control has been marked by crackdowns on political opposition and evidence of corruption.
“If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS?” Trump said last Wednesday at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” hosted by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Asked then about his expressed admiration for Putin, he added, “He’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
Woolsey, who also served as undersecretary of the Navy, noted Trump’s pledges to “rebuild” the U.S. military, including convincing Congress to lift budget caps on military spending and adding some 60,000 troops, 100 aircraft and 75 surface ships and submarines in a plan outlined last Wednesday.
“Mr. Trump’s commitment to reversing the harmful defense budget cuts signed into law by the current administration, while acknowledging the need for debt reduction, is an essential step,” Woolsey said Monday.
Criticism that the Obama administration has made harmful cuts to the military is a popular Republican line, though defense spending is at historic highs and the caps were first put into place by Congress before President Barack Obama signed them into law.
In a speech on Monday to the National Guard Association, Trump’s vows to get rid of the limited spending, known as sequestration, got loud applause. The Obama administration, and its top military officials, have also pleaded with Congress to find a fix.
But lifting those caps and bulking up the military, as Trump has promised, would be unlikely to help reduce the national debt. Trump has said he would offset the cost by cutting federal waste, fraud, and abuse, but gave little detail. Experts estimate his spending plan it could add up up to $100 billion to the Pentagon’s budget.
Photo credit: David Hume Kennerly / Contributor