- The Washington Times
Friday, January 6, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump is “undermining the credibility” of the U.S. intelligence community by using Twitter to discuss and dispute matters of national security, former CIA Director Leon Panetta said Friday.

In an interview broadcast by NBC’s “Today” show, the former CIA chief said it was “unheard of and unprecedented” for the president-elect to be publicly sparring with the nation’s intelligence community after Mr. Trump used his widely followed social media account to challenge its claims concerning a hacking campaign waged against the 2016 White House race by the Russian government.

“When he sits down with our intelligence community and hears what they have to say, I think he’s going to realize that this is a very important issue that must be dealt with seriously,” said Mr. Panetta, who at separate times ran both the CIA and Department of Defense under President Obama.

“He’s going to find that it’s easy to tweet about reactions to all kinds of issues. But to seriously deal with our national security and deal with the threats to our country is a business that ought to be done in the confines of the Oval Office,” he said Friday morning.

Although Mr. Panetta has been hardly reserved in the past with respect to expressing his opinion of the president-elect, his latest comments proved especially timely given that Mr. Trump was scheduled to be briefed by intelligence officials Friday afternoon on the Russia’s hacking campaign.

While the U.S. intelligence community has confidently determined that the Russian government directed hackers to infiltrate various Democratic targets in a bid to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump has continued to dispute that finding, notwithstanding a growing pile of digital evidence.

“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday this week. A senior U.S. intelligence official subsequently told NBC News the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday, contrary to the president-elect’s tweet.

On the heels of spending months raising doubts about Russia’s role in last year’s race, Mr. Panetta on Friday likened the president-elect’s ongoing Twitter behavior to something he hasn’t witnessed previously during his half-century of public service.

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” said Mr. Panetta, 78. “The fact that the president-elect is tweeting on this issue and taking it to the public and in many ways undermining the credibility of the very intelligence agencies that have to provide information to him in order for him to be president of the United States, this is just unheard of and unprecedented, and I think we all have to be concerned about this. This is not the kind of bickering that ought to be going on in public.”

“The president has to work with the intelligence community. The president has got to make tough decisions. He cannot make those tough decisions without the very best intelligence that can be provided to him,” he continued. “I’m concerned that it really is damaging the credibility of our intelligence agencies and the morale of those many and women who serve in those intelligence agencies.”

Mr. Panetta, a former Republican, served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton prior to being appointed director of the CIA in 2009 by Mr. Obama, both Democrats. He held that role until June 2011 when he transitioned to the role of secretary of defense.

Earlier this week, he joined 14 other foreign affairs experts including fellow former CIA Director Mike Morell in urging Congress to assemble a bipartisan panel devoted to examining any role Russia had in influencing the outcome of the recent White House race.

“Our elections should always belong to us. When foreign interference occurs, both major political parties should unite and declare they will not tolerate it,” their letter said in part.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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