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Former CIA Director Michael Hayden Weighs In On Trump Revoking Security Clearances


All right, as we've heard, when President Trump pulled John Brennan's security clearance, he also threatened to pull the clearances of nine others, including former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, including former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper and another former CIA director, Michael Hayden, who joins me now via Skype. General Hayden, welcome.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thanks, Mary Louise - kind of a dead man walking here, I guess.

KELLY: You still have your clearance so far as you know for now.

HAYDEN: As far as I know, yes.

KELLY: How did you first hear about this - that President Trump was thinking about maybe revoking your clearance?

HAYDEN: So that was about three weeks ago. I was on an airplane flying out to Vancouver, Canada. I had online connectivity, and my Twitter account exploded as the announcement was made in the press room.

KELLY: Yeah, but..

HAYDEN: Now, after that, Mary Louise, I have not heard word one from anyone.

KELLY: So your Twitter feed blew up when the White House first floated this. Then came...

HAYDEN: Right.

KELLY: ...The news yesterday that it was a fait accompli at least where John Brennan is concerned.

HAYDEN: Right.

KELLY: We just heard there from our White House reporter Scott Horsley the explanation for why the president has decided to target John Brennan has shifted. What is your read on what's going on here?

HAYDEN: The president took John's clearance away from him as a punitive measure because the president did not like what John was saying about him. And that's the simple matter, Mary Louise. There is no question that John is competent to hold a clearance. And if saying some iffy things on Twitter were grounds for removing clearances, we'd have a lot of people around town without clearances.

KELLY: Your read - this is pure politics, not a national security question here.

HAYDEN: Oh, it's not a national security question at all. And it never entered into the calculus. The president doesn't like what John and several other folks have said. Now, Mary Louise, let me be very candid. I mean, John has said things at a level of personalism when it comes to the president that I as a frequent critic of the president don't allow myself to say. So I can see why the president responded on a personal level. But, you know, he's the president. And he's got a responsibility to preserve the dignity of the office and to show some restraint with the incredible powers of the office. And I think he failed on both counts.

KELLY: But stay with this point here for a minute.


KELLY: We just heard from Senator Kennedy there - not the butthead part of his argument per se but that John Brennan brought this on himself by acting like a political hack. The White House warned him, we're thinking about doing this. He kept on criticizing, and here we are.

HAYDEN: Yeah, no, look. Actions have consequences. But, you know, I'm on the list. Jim Clapper's on the list. There are a whole bunch of other people on the list. And the only common factor that unites the people on the list is that from time to time, we say some things critical of the president. Now I try in my criticism to talk about what the president says or does, not about the character of the man. John's given himself a bigger canvas to paint on, and therefore he's been singled out.

KELLY: Knowing now what the consequence of your criticisms might be, would you take back anything you've said?

HAYDEN: No, no, not at all. Again, you know, we're all human beings. We have good days and bad days. But I've tried to be very careful to respect both the office and the occupant of the office but to point out things with which I disagree. And, Mary Louise, it gets increasingly difficult if you view yourself to be the fact witness - just telling things as you believe them to be, it gets increasingly difficult in the face of a White House that says so many things that are unrelated to objective reality.

KELLY: Well, let me just get you on the record here. If this is, as some have suggested, an attempt by the president to silence his critics, will you be silenced?

HAYDEN: Oh, of course not. Look. I'm blessed, all right? I'm 10 years out of government. And as we used to say in the armed forces, I got my pension. So I have more freedom of action than some other folks might have.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask in the few seconds we have. For those who don't have their pension, who are still working in the intelligence community, will this have a chilling effect, just briefly?

HAYDEN: It will have a chilling effect in that it has messaged the entire intelligence community that if you disagree with the president, if you say things with which the president disagrees or he does not like, he is willing to take punitive action against you. And that has nothing to do with politics. That has everything to do with the freedom of American intelligence to be candid with the commander in chief.

KELLY: OK, General Michael Hayden, thank you.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

KELLY: Former Director of the CIA and the National Security Agency Mike Hayden, one of the officials whose security clearance President Trump is threatening to revoke. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.