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Leon Panetta: 'Question In Everybody's Mind' About Whether Trump Will Finish Term

Leon Panetta, who served as director of the CIA and defense secretary under former President Obama, joins Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the Manchester bombing and national security issues during President Trump’s time in office.

Panetta is currently chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

Interview Highlights

On the Manchester attack, and whether it’s possible to stop homegrown terrorists

“Well it’s a real challenge to try to get ahead of these kinds of attacks. This is not a situation where you have a group of people planning some kind of coordinated attack, similar to 9/11. What you have are individuals who are within a country — born and raised there, often — living within a community, and suddenly, for a lot of reasons, become self-radicalized. This is… in some ways, it was termed the ‘lone wolf’ type attack, where someone suddenly comes out of the wall and conducts a suicide attack that creates terror among innocent people. And we’re seeing more of that, obviously, in these last few years. And that’s the way ISIS operates. But it is very challenging to try to be able to stop those type of attacks.”

On former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony about Russian election interference

“I think it further justifies the investigations that are going on into what Russia did, and whether or not there is any collusion. I mean the reality is that Russia conducted a cyberattack on this country, a very serious attack, to destabilize this country and interfere with our election process. In the process of doing that, they may very well have worked — either wittingly or unwittingly — with individuals in the Trump campaign. The reality is, as John Brennan testified, that there were a number of individuals within the campaign that had contacts with the Russians. All of that has to be looked at. All of that has to be investigated to determine just exactly what took place here. This is a very serious issue, because the Russians have not only conducted that kind of attack against the United States, they did it in France. They’re doing it in Germany, they’re doing it elsewhere. I think they’ve determined that this is a very viable weapon to use to create instability in a country. And because of that, we are obligated to do everything necessary to find out what exactly happened.”


On the impact of Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel

“I have a great deal of confidence in Bob Mueller. I worked with him when he was FBI director, I was CIA director. We had a great partnership. He’s very serious. He’s got a great deal of integrity. He focuses on the challenge that he’s responsible for. And I have a lot of confidence in his ability to conduct this investigation. He’s a good man. In addition to that, I hope that the various committees that are investigating this on the Hill will continue to pursue this issue as well.

“This is extremely important. This country cannot afford to ignore what took place when a foreign adversary used this kind of attack on our country to go after our basic institutions, the institutions of our freedoms, and our ability to conduct a free election, and to try to influence that, and to try to undermine stability. And frankly, they’re achieving their mission. What we’re going through right now, in terms of how the Russians look at this country and the kind of turmoil we’re going through right now, I’m sure in some ways they are looking at each other and saying, ‘We’ve accomplished the mission that we were after,’ which was to very seriously destabilize the United States of America, and create this kind of turmoil. We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.”

On President Trump hosting the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office

“It raises serious concerns about just exactly whether or not the president really does understand the implications of what he’s doing in this situation. I mean, the fact is, Russians, and the Russian nation, is a foreign adversary of the United States. That’s been the case for a long time. Their goal is to do everything possible to destabilize our country, and to weaken the United States. The president of the United States needs to understand that. And yet at times, in the way he behaves, and what he says about the Russians, and about the Russian threat, and the fact that he was willing to share with them classified information that was very sensitive, and that jeopardized not only the source of that intelligence, but the relationship with the country that provided it. That is irresponsible. So, it is very important it seems to me that if this country is to protect our national security — and very frankly that is the first mission of the president the United States, is to protect our country — he cannot afford to take this kind of attitude with regards to our foreign adversaries. He speaks strongly about ISIS. He speaks strongly about terrorists. He speaks strongly about al-Qaida, about Iran, about North Korea. He’s got to wake up and speak strongly about the threat from Russia.”

On whether Trump will serve out his full term in office

“Well that’s the question in everybody’s mind right now. This has obviously been a hell of a ride these last four months. I’ve often said that this presidency is kinda the tale of two presidencies. On the national security side, I think he’s got a pretty strong team. They do provide pretty good views about our foreign policy, and our national security policy. And the president seems to listen to that. On this trip, he’s following the talking points, he seems to be adhering to a much more traditional approach to foreign policy abroad.

“On the domestic side, and dealing with both the politics and domestic issues, I just don’t get the sense that he has that kind of team: people that are experienced, people that know the Hill, people that know issues, people that know how to discipline how they operate in the White House. And the result is, the White House appears very chaotic. I don’t think he can afford to continue to operate that way and be able to survive in office. He’s going to have to restructure the way the White House operates.”

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