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Hayden Advice to Intel Officials: Too Risky to Serve as Trump Political Appointees

Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA Director, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee on Aug. 4, 2015. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA and author of The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies, revealed that he has advised intelligence officials not to serve at the “political level” in the Trump administration during these “difficult times.”

“At the political level, beginning about March of 2017 when I got phone calls from people, I said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I said, ‘Don’t go.’ In most cases, these were people young enough that they are going to get their turn at bat again and I said, ‘You won’t survive this turn at bat. You won’t make a difference. You’ll be frustrated and that will be there forever.’ So at the political level, my advice is don’t do it,” Hayden said recently during a discussion about his new book at the International Spy Museum.

“Now, that said, God bless [CIA Director] Gina Haspel and the fact that she stayed and so on, but she was not a political appointee. She was what everyone wanted, which was a pure professional. So that’s the advice. I wouldn’t sugarcoat it – yeah, these are difficult times. Keep an eye on your leadership. Make sure they’re protecting you and, if they’re not protecting you, preserve your options,” he added.

Hayden elaborated on his statements during an interview with PJM after the discussion.

“This is always the job – how do we make the president better than he would otherwise be? And stick with it. But, you know, I raise a point in the book and I’ll repeat it here. At what point does your presence there become less of a guard rail against unwise behavior and more your presence there gives the administration more legitimacy than it would otherwise have or more than it might deserve on a particular issue? At which point, you might be required to leave,” he said. “You follow orders as long as they’re legal, and if you don’t want to then you really do leave. All right – as long as they’re legal. If you’re there, you follow the law, but the legality is important.”

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s campaign influence operation continues, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani recently said Trump probably has the authority to pardon himself if necessary. Hayden was asked for his reaction to Giuliani’s comments.

“Out of my lane. Not something I have expertise on. All right, you’re asking me as a citizen. It doesn’t make me comfortable. All right, it makes me very uncomfortable. All right, again, as a citizen, but I don’t have particular expertise. I do know about wiretapping. They didn’t wiretap Trump Tower, period. I do know about unmasking. It doesn’t appear to have been any illicit unmasking,” Hayden told PJM.

Hayden shared his analysis of where the Mueller investigation might end up.

“So there is already public evidence of the campaign’s willingness to cooperate with the Russians. You saw it with the meeting with [Natalia] Veselnitskaya and dirt on Hillary. They accepted that with enthusiasm. Later we saw text exchanges between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that seemed to synchronize things the campaign was doing and saying with things that WikiLeaks was releasing,” he said.

“I think there is one instance where the campaign actually called attention to the WikiLeaks website based upon the recommendation of the text messaging. You’ve got the president over 160 times in the last 30 days of the campaign saying ‘I love WikiLeaks’ or calling attention to WikiLeaks,” he added. “We already proved ‘stupid.’ We already proved ‘politically naive.’ Now is there something more?”

When asked about Trump tweeting about a “spy” he believed was placed inside his campaign, in regard to an FBI confidential human source meeting with a few people working for the campaign, Hayden replied, “My answer to that is that is probably the lightest possible approach you could make during an investigation and still claim you’re investigating.”