Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Col. Steve Ganyard said Donald Trump’s comments about his classified intelligence briefing this week troubled some in the intelligence community, saying, “Our friends in the intelligence community were quite upset to hear that sort of talk.”
“I think if there was any discomfort, it was not signaling any personal preference or policy. It was more because they understood that what they were saying might be used against them in a way that was untrue,” he said, in response to Trump’s claim that his briefers’ body language revealed their frustration with President Barack Obama’s leadership.
Ganyard, who attended classified briefings while working at the State Department, joined this week’s episode of the “Powerhouse Politics” podcast with ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News political director Rick Klein to discuss Trump’s inflammatory comments about his latest intelligence briefing and possible ties to the Russian government.
Ganyard, a retired colonel and fighter pilot in the Marine Corps and current ABC News contributor, said that a reportedly heated exchange between Gen. Michael Flynn, who was at the briefing as a Trump adviser, and the intelligence officers, in which Flynn was allegedly verbally restrained by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was probably more about the level of the analysis rather than the analysis itself.
“Everybody has some sort of intelligence capability or an arm, and so DIA” — the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn once directed — “has been sort of the JV to the CIA’s varsity,” Ganyard said. “So I’m sure [Flynn] was expecting something much more substantial than what was given. That’s probably what he was objecting to, not the analysis itself.”
The briefing was most likely a basic, “around the world” overview of information, Ganyard said, with “added layers of intelligence behind it.” “So if they’re doing that sort of thing, then it’s probably not going to be to the level of intelligence — the very, very secretive stuff — that Gen. Flynn was looking for.”
As for Trump’s recent praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and potential ties to Russia, Ganyard said, “I used to think ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ was just a movie. Now I’m beginning to wonder.”
He later slammed Trump for appearing on the Russian television program “RT,” which he called “a propaganda arm of the Russian government.”
“For [Trump] to go on and treat it like it was ABC, or NBC or CBS is just deceptive,” he added.
Ganyard also didn’t hold back when calling out Hillary Clinton and her aides for their handling of sensitive information while she served as secretary of state. While she may have had “the ability to say, ‘I don’t know what the C is’” in reference to confidential material, he has little regard for her aides who handled the classified information.
“The people that don’t have any kind of excuse are her aides,” he said. “The fact that all of her aides went free is a thing that I have a hard time justifying, because somebody knew — maybe she didn’t, maybe she has an excuse — but somebody was feeding her highly, highly classified information, knowing full well what they were doing.”
While the FBI decided not to indict Clinton over the email scandal, Ganyard said that in the military, “it can generally be a career ender to divulge classified information or mishandle it.” But more than anything, he said, he is distressed over “the military being pulled into a very politicized, bitterly politicized, campaign” and urged the military to “rise above partisan politics.”
“The military has to step back and say, these are politicians, there are other people, but you’re in the military, you’re there to support and defend the Constitution. You’re going to be held to a higher standard — not only in your conduct but in the eyes of the American people,” he said.
This week’s podcast also featured Micah Cohen, the political editor of FiveThirtyEight, who discussed the tightening poll numbers between Clinton and Trump.
Although Trump “has not been the disaster that I thought he would be,” Cohen said, both Trump and Clinton are “problematic” candidates.
“Look, Hillary Clinton herself is a really problematic candidate, the most unpopular nominee in modern presidential election history — except for Donald Trump,” Cohen said. He estimated that Trump currently has about a 30 percent chance of winning the general election in November.