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Brennan: Trump threatened by law enforcement because they can expose his falsehoods

Former CIA Director John Brennan says he has become an outspoken critic of President Trump because, he charges, Trump “is deceiving the American public, and it’s going to have...negative consequences for our national security.” Brennan joins Nick Schifrin to discuss why he feels a responsibility to condemn the president, plus whether Trump’s North Korea’s strategy is working.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    During a long career in the intelligence community, John Brennan was a man of few public words.

    And yet, as Nick Schifrin reports, these days, he has increasingly found his voice, especially as it pertains to President Trump.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Brennan joined CIA in 1980. He was deputy executive director in the George W. Bush administration and director in the Obama administration.

    Since stepping down in January 2017, he has become an outspoken critic of President Trump.

    And Director John Brennan joins me now.

    Thank you very much for being here.

  • John Brennan:

    Hi, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Singapore summit is just a few days away, and there was a lot of rhetorical back and forth in 2017. But, at this point, North Korea claims that it wants to denuclearize, and has frozen its nuclear missile tests.

    So is that a sign that the president's strategy is working?

  • John Brennan:

    Well, I think it's a sign that tensions have come down, thankfully.

    And I do think it's important that there be a diplomatic process under way. I'm not all that pleased that Mr. Trump decided to go right to a summit with very little preparation. Even today in the Oval Office, he said it doesn't need much preparation.

    This is a highly complex, complicated matter. It was very difficult with Iran that didn't have a nuclear program. With North Korea, I think it's much more difficult, because you're talking about not just pausing their program, but dismantling their program.

    And as Secretary Pompeo said, having them thoroughly, completely, irrevocably and verifiably stop the program, the nuclear program, that's going to be tough to do.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump criticizes the Obama administration, criticizes, in fact, all his predecessors for not solving the North Korea problem.

    Under the Obama administration, the policy was strategic patience. And while you were patient, North Korea was building and enhancing its missile and nuclear program. So, do you believe that strategic patience was a failure?

  • John Brennan:

    Well, I think it certainly didn't result in North Korea not acquiring a nuclear capability. Looking back over the last 20 years, I think successive administrations have tried their best to prevent North Korea from acquiring that type of capability.

    It was a very long march that the North Koreans were on. And now they do have a nuclear weapons capability. And so I think it's appropriate that the Trump administration deal with this directly.

    But this is a very difficult challenge. It has been a challenge for the last two decades. There has not been a military solution at all to this challenge because North Korea, not just because of its nuclear capability and ballistic missile capability, but it has so much conventional artillery that is within range of Seoul, the most densely populated city in the world, that even if we were able to take out all of its nuclear and ballistic missile capability, they could rain hell down on the people of Seoul and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

    And let's not forget, we have about 200,000 American citizens in South Korea and 30,000 U.S. troops. So, there would be a lot of people who would be killed by North Korean artillery.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But do you acknowledge that the problem has gotten worse in the last few years, as President Trump points out?

  • John Brennan:

    Well, I think Kim Jong Un, I think he defied a lot of his early critics. And I will say that I didn't have all that much respect for him early on.

    But I think he has been quite masterful in terms of how he has been able to move this program forward, accelerate it during the Trump administration. And…

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And as well as during the Obama administration.

  • John Brennan:

    Well, yes, absolutely.

    And I think he has escalated in order to de-escalate. Escalate in order to be able to plateau with a nuclear capability. I think his strategy right now is to see what he can get out of this summit and to see whether or not the United States, and South Korea and China are going to relax the pressure on him and allow him to retain this nuclear capability for, I would think, years to come.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You were, of course, the head of the country's best-known intelligence service. And you have accused the president of not only lying routinely, intentionally fueling divisions and degrading institutions.

    But you also wrote this on Twitter on March the 17th. And I will bring it up, "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history."

    You claim that you're nonpartisan. There are some people I have talked to at the agency who are a little uncomfortable with your criticism.

    So, the people who say that you are nonpartisan, do they not have a point?

    Sorry. The people who say you are partisan, don't they have a point?

  • John Brennan:

    I'm not a Republican or Democrat. And I have been roundly condemned by Republicans and Democrats over the years. And I call it like I see it.

    And on that March 17 tweet, this was the day that Donald Trump did a — almost a victory and gloating dance when Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of FBI, was fired, basically 36 hours before he was eligible to retire.

    Mr. Trump is a demagogue because he has preyed upon the fears and concerns of American people, some very legitimate concerns, but he routinely lies, he deceives, and he misrepresents the facts and reality.

    And so, yes, I speak out rather forcefully. But I am a private citizen now. And these are abnormal times. And some people think it's abnormal for a former director of CIA, just like a former director of the FBI and director of intelligence, Jim Comey and Jim Clapper, to speak out as well.

    But this is an abnormal president. And I think what we need to do is to have people who have some experience and some responsibility, I think, for being able to speak truth to the American people, and to call Mr. Trump out when he deceives the American public and indeed the world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But do you worry that your criticisms play into the president's fears that intelligence services are out to get him?

    And Gina Haspel is now CIA director. You endorsed her. Do you believe that your criticisms might make her job harder?

  • John Brennan:

    I don't believe so.

    I don't think Mr. Trump and others who want to claim that there is this deep state rely on my tweets or my public commentary.

    He sees threats from the intelligence community. He sees threats from law enforcement. He sees threats from the judiciary and the media, because they are the ones that can expose his falsehoods.

    So, the fact that I'm speaking out, I think I'm lending my voice to the legions of people who believe that Mr. Trump is really an aberration as far as U.S. presidents are concerned, and that he is deceiving the American public, and it's going to have consequences, negative consequences, for our national security.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You recently said of President Trump, the Russians may have something on him personally.

    Do they have something on him?

  • John Brennan:

    I was asked a question of, do they? And I basically said, I don't know. They might. They may.

    But I was very surprised at just how fawning his attitude was toward Mr. Putin, that he would speak with such disdain toward our allies, toward senators, even of his own party, but yet he speaks, you know, so, almost lovingly about Mr. Putin, and was so reluctant to call him out, to include for the attempts to undermine our elections.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But you say you don't know.

    Do you think it's appropriate for the former CIA director to speculate?

  • John Brennan:

    I think it was appropriate for me to answer the question and say, I don't know, which I said. I said they may have. They may not. I don't know.

    But I know…

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But do you think it's OK for you to speculate, given how much you know and given how people see you and what you know, certainly what you have had access to in the past?

  • John Brennan:

    Well, I think I have come to learn a lot since my departure from the government in January 2017, including what's out in the press.

    And I am growing increasingly concerned about all the things that the Russians clearly did during that election that I was even unaware of, in terms of the personas on social media and other things.

    So I don't know what the Russians might have on individuals who may have been associated with the campaign, but I'm going to speak out. And if people want to criticize me, that's fine.

    But I must tell you that there re so many people who stop me or send me notes and say, thank you for speaking out, because I'm giving voice to those that cannot have the same opportunity that I do.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Director John Brennan, thank you very much.

  • John Brennan:

    Thanks, Nick.

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