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Former CIA director: Trump doesn’t seem to base some decisions on objective reality

In "The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in the Age of Lies," retired Gen. Michael Hayden critiques President Trump's campaign tactics, behavior and governing style, especially as it relates to the nation's secrets and spies. Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the Russia probe, the Iran deal and more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump was elected, at least in part, on a promise to upend the way Washington and its bureaucracies work.

    That gave pause to some in the nation's intelligence community, including retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, who, during the George W. Bush administration, served consecutively as director of the National Security Agency and the CIA.

    In his new book, "The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies," he critiques the president's campaign tactics, his behavior, and his governing style, especially as it relates to the nation's secrets and its spies.

    General Hayden, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you worked in a Republican administration, but you're pretty tough on President Trump.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Yes, actually, I try to appear and be apolitical. I was actually a Clinton appointee to NSA. But, indeed, I am fairly tough on the president.

    Judy, I look at as kind of a three-layer cake. And, so, let me begin at the base layer, which is not Donald Trump. The base layer is us, all right? We have entered what the Oxford Dictionary calls a post-truth world, a world in which decision-making is less dependent on data and facts, and more dependent on the emotion, preference, grievances, loyalty, tribalism.

    And what President Trump did as a candidate, he identified that. He exploited that. And, frankly — and here's the crux of the book — as president, he seems to worsen that. And then you have got those two layers.

    I have got a third layer of the cake that's somewhat troubling as well, and that's a foreign power, the Russians, kind of coming in through the perimeter wire, taking advantage of all that I just described.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is the problem that you have, the criticism you have of his relationship with the intelligence community? He's been very critical at times.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Yes, at times.

    And, frankly, though, and the phrase you would use at CIA, the intel community right now is a little bit off of the X. The Department of Justice and the FBI are on the X.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you mean?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    I mean they are the target of the president's criticism of both institutions and people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    But that shouldn't be comforting to the people in the intelligence community, because you have a president here who seems to emphasize loyalty, personal loyalty to him, over the norms that have governed these institutions for decades, if not centuries.

    So that could easily be turned to the intelligence community as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you know that this president is so very different from other presidents in his relationship to the intelligence…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    So, to be very fair, I have never briefed President Trump. I have briefed President Bush, President Obama.

    And I go to great pains in the book to point out, it's our job to accommodate the president. We have had presidents who have argued with us. We have had presidents, frankly, who may not have told the truth either.

    This is a president — and this is the distinction — who seems to make some decisions based on something other than a view of objective reality. He's based decisions on some other criteria, back to that basic layer of a post-truth world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the many things you write about, General Hayden, is the so-called Steele dossier.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This was the document, the report prepared by the former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

    You know him. You have looked at that. How credible is it? And I'm asking because Republicans in the Congress have discounted it. They say it was paid for by the Democrats, it's not worth the paper it's written on.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    So, I don't know Chris Steele. I know people who have worked with him. He was a solid officer for MI6.

    But, Judy, when I read that document, a couple of thoughts, right, when it became public. Number one, that sounds like us. It has the patois of an intelligence report. All right, so it was familiar language to me.

    But if we had produced that, we would have had in bold letters at the top and bottom, this is not finely evaluated intelligence. This is raw information.

    It would have been the beginning of a process, not the end.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — but you're saying it wouldn't have been completely discounted?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Oh, no, no.

    What we would have done, we would have gone through every particular proposition. We would have said, who's the source? Would the source be expected to know? Has the source reported reliably in the past? And do we have other information that would sustain or not sustain that data point?

    And, frankly, that, I think, is what's now going on with Bob Mueller and others.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of Robert Mueller, special counsel, so much to ask you about here.

    There's a lot, in fact, everything we don't know about what he has learned, but we do know there have been an unusual number of communications, connections between people around President Trump and Russian officials.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it that unusual? I think people are looking at that and saying, is that something we should be paying this much attention to?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    So, I — yes. And an answer is yes, from my point of view.

    Remember, the Mueller investigation has gotten pretty broad now, but its origins, its origins are in a counterintelligence investigation. It's, what were the Russians trying to do, and did anyone over here engage in helping them?

    So, we do have, I think, an extraordinary number of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian security services. And we know for a fact what the Russians were trying to do.

    Now the question becomes for Director Mueller, in those connections, is that born out of naivete, out of ignorance, or something darker?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it possible — and this emerged from the Steele dossier — that Moscow may view Donald Trump, President Trump, as a — when he was a candidate as a Russian asset? I mean, is that even conceivable?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    I don't — I wouldn't — and I have used the word — and some supporters of the president think I'm being a little unkind here — I have used the Russian word polezni durak, the useful idiot, the useful tool.

    In other words, a naive — it actually comes out of the Soviet period. It's actually a term of art. It's the naive individual who is exploited by the Soviets then, the Russians now, even though they may hold him in personal contempt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you worry most about as this investigation goes on?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    The lack of resolution.

    The intelligence community report on what the Russians did, when you look at what Americans think about it, it looks like a national Rorschach test, depending upon which political party you claim membership in.

    And so we can't get out from under this cloud until most Americans are able to look at one another and say, well, that looks about the way that it happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, two other things I want to ask you about that are taking place in this administration.

    The possibility of a deal between the United States and North Korea to potentially get rid of its nuclear weapons program, does that seem like something that could happen?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    The broad-based intelligence estimate for the longest time, Judy, has been, these guys aren't crazy, the Koreans, and they would have to be crazy to give up their weapons.

    When you look at the Moammar Gadhafis and the Saddam Husseins, at the Ukraines of the world, what happens to a country when they don't have this stuff?

    Denuclearization, in any way that has meaning for you and me, is something that's going to take place at the end of a very long process, which doesn't mean the president shouldn't go meet Kim Jong-un and perhaps begin that process?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, a question about Iran.

    Should the administration, the Trump administration, stay in the current deal, or should the U.S. pull out?

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    My personal view is, we should stay in for the time being. I wasn't a fan of the deal. I had all my criticisms of the deal.

    But I think the consensus of folks like me is that Iran is further away from a weapon with this deal than they would be without it. We know more about the Iranian program with this deal than we would know without it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it looks like the president is preparing to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    I fear that he is.

    And what I just told you about further away and so on, that's actually the intelligence community assessment. And we're back to the premise of the book. How much of presidential action is based upon this objective view of reality, as opposed to his original instincts and campaign rhetoric?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Hayden.

    The book is "The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies."

    Thank you very much, General.

  • Gen. Michael Hayden:

    Thank you.

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