Former intel chief Hayden: Think twice on a Trump job offer

Former intel chief Hayden: Think twice on a Trump job offer
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Former CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Hayden has some advice for anyone approached by the Trump White House for high-ranking intelligence posts: Think hard.

“If someone were to call me and say ‘I’ve been offered a senior job,’ I’d tell them ‘Think twice,’” he said in an interview with The Hill. 

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Hayden, who directed intelligence under the last three presidents, spoke amid renewed tensions between President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE and the intelligence community, flaring again when the president said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin that he played no role in meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump also called the leaders of the Intelligence community under President Obama “political hacks.”

The U.S. intelligence agencies investigating events like the DNC hack all have concluded that Russia did in fact attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. 

“For a while he was saying Putin’s sincerity trumped the fact-based intelligence,” said Hayden, who worries that repeat slights from Trump are taking a toll on the intelligence community.  

“People will ask themselves ‘Does what I do still matter,’” said Hayden, who is also a contributor to The Hill’s opinion section.  

Though Trump later walked back the comments, made on his trip through Asia this weekend, Hayden does not think the president went far enough.

A four-star general, Hayden directed the NSA from the end of the Clinton administration to the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term. He directed the CIA during the middle years of the Obama administration.  

Hayden is the namesake of the new Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security at George Mason University. The center is headed by Hayden’s former CIA chief of staff, Larry Pfeiffer. 

Hayden said this year’s theme for the center is as timely as ever: “Fact-based intelligence in a post-truth world.”  

The post-truth world, he said, was on full display over the weekend in Trump’s statements and tweets seeming to take the word of Putin that Russia had no role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political targets.

Trump eventually amended his comments, saying that while he believed the intelligence communities as “currently constituted” with his appointees, he also believed Putin believed Russia had no involvement. 

Even that hedging goes against the intelligence community assessment that Putin was not only aware of interference in the election, but ordered it. 

“And the fact he had to say ‘as currently constituted’ is still an insult to the intelligence community,” he said. 

Hayden believes that a Donald Trump tweet amid the Russia discussion over the weekend shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates Putin. 

The president tweeted: “Does the Fake News Media remember when Crooked Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState polling problematic — again 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet 'Unmasking' Steele dossier source: Was confidentiality ever part of the deal? MORE, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.” 

The tweet implied Trump contends that his personal chemistry with Russia's leader would be the difference between a failed "Russian reset" and a success. 

“Putin is driven by interpersonal relationships, but not the way Trump thinks about it,” he said.

But Hayden noted that ex-KGB member Putin’s primary goal in personal relationships was to later exploit them for his own gain. Trump might value that as a relationship being built on loyalty. 

Hayden said his knowledge of Trump’s intelligence appointees, Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down MORE as Director of National Intelligence and Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Pompeo: Trump taking action on Chinese software firms 'in coming days' Navarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' MORE as head of CIA, suggest both want to run the espionage services as an system capable of speaking truth to power. 

The president’s recalcitrance to accept the intelligence community’s assessments puts them in a difficult position, where their public statements have to address two audiences — the president and their agencies’ staffs.

Veer too closely toward addressing employees who have long since accepted Russia’s role in political hacking, and lose critical access to the president. 

Hayden said it is not too late for Trump to mend fences with the intelligence community. It would just take a decisive stance backing the communities’ work that the president has so far been unable to give. 

“He’d need to say three sentences: ‘The Russians did it. I know the Russians did it. We will not rest until we know the extent of what Russia did and what we can do to stop it from happening again,’” he said. 

Until then, the relationship might remain fractured.  

“That is a great sadness for the president that these people just want to serve the president, and he acts like he does not believe it’s true," Hayden said.