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Bush’s Former CIA and NSA Director Slams Trump For ‘Delegitimizing’ Facts

Gen. Michael Hayden said Trump’s attempts to sow distrust in government would come back to bite him.

By Robbie Gramer, a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
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A former U.S. intelligence chief who served a Republican president warned President Donald Trump was engaged in an unprecedented campaign to “delegitimize” facts — and by extension the intelligence community that delivers them.

“What I’m seeing is a straight-out attempt to delegitimize the bearers of the facts,” Gen. Michael Hayden, who was head of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush said Wednesday. “It’s a de-legitimization of those presenting you with something you’d rather not be presented with,” he said, adding that he’d “never experienced it before.”

Hayden spoke at an event in Washington, “The Future of Truth”, co-hosted by Foreign Policy and PEN America.

Concerns over the credibility of officials and the press escalated dramatically since Trump took office. The president has repeatedly attacked the media for producing “fake news.” Meanwhile, foreign governments, journalists, and even the ranks of the U.S. government struggle to decipher the Trump administration’s fast and loose relationship with the truth.

A large chunk of the administration’s unverifiable statements stem from the scandal over Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. The scandal has dogged Trump’s White House from day one, felled his first national security advisor, and fueled multiple federal and Congressional probes.

Truth in national security is a unique beast, argued David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group. Unlike other public policy debates such as on health or science, he said the public “can’t refer to the underlying facts” because many are classified.

The climate in Washington undercuts Americans’ confidence in their national security, argued Vikram Singh, a former senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama now with Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress. “It’s not new to have a public skeptical of government’s talking points,” Singh said, but today’s level of distrust is unprecedented. “We’re facing a crisis in confidence that is rather unparalleled,” he said.

Hayden said the distrust Trump was sowing would come back to bite him at a time when he needs Americans to rally around him. He predicted that Trump will eventually face that moment during a national emergency when he gives a prime time address asking Americans to make sacrifices. “The erosion of confidence in his own word and in the words of his government can only only come back to harm him and his presidency,” Hayden said.

When asked if Trump’s actions were endangering national security, Hayden pointedly said, “yes.”

Experts speaking at the event also voiced concerns over Trump stacking his top administration posts with generals, which could lead to military “groupthink,” and leaving key middle management posts vacant.

By his second month in office, the Trump administration hadn’t filled 2,000 vacancies in the administration, including 197 in the State Department and 63 in the Department of Defense. Many don’t require Senate approval. “We are a government of vacancies,” Hayden said.

The empty seats will leave the administration struggling to enact its own policies, experts warned. “We have heads of agencies but no next to connect them to the bodies,” said Susan Hennessey, fellow at Brookings Institution and managing editor of Lawfare. “Decisions are pushed lower and lower down the chain, people are doing the boss’s jobs, and their boss’s boss’s jobs.”

Or, as the New York Times’ David Sanger’s quipped: “One way they’ve gotten around groupthink in this administration is they don’t have any groups.”


Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer