Former CIA, NSA director on Trump: 'A president that really doesn't do a lot of homework'

General Michael Hayden, Brian Fallon join the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast.

May 17, 2017, 7:01 AM

— -- As controversies continue to engulf the White House — including one concerning a report that President Donald Trump revealed classified information to Russian officials last week — one of the country's foremost leaders in the intelligence community is questioning how the commander in chief can get "up to speed" on the intricacies of his position.

"How does the president learn?" Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and the CIA, asked during an interview on the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast with ABC News' chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and political director Rick Klein. "The security establishment then, after discovering that, has to find the right techniques to get inside the president's head."

Hayden addressed concern over Trump's disclosure of intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about an ISIS terrorist threat, saying that while the president may not have revealed "sources and methods" — as the White House claims — there is a danger that he provided clues.

"'Fact of' sometimes can reveal 'fact how,'" said Hayden, explaining that the nature of any intelligence shared can point "in the directions of the sources and methods."

Hayden, a four-star general, added that the U.S has "a responsibility to warn" foreign nations if there is a threat of "impending danger for someone else, even if we didn't like the someone else" and that Trump's action was not a crime because declassification authority "is totally within his purview" but said he still has work to do to avoid mistakes.

"Right now, the word on the street is that this is a president that really doesn't do a lot of homework, that is almost preternaturally confident in his own instincts and judgments," said Hayden. "He doesn't seem to have a whole lot of respect for the institutions that are designed to bring him this detailed knowledge."

Hayden conceded that Trump's outside-the-Beltway career, in business and real estate, entailed a steep learning curve in the Oval Office but added, "What I don't understand is the lack of humility in the face of that obvious lack of background."

In a separate conversation on the podcast with Brian Fallon, who served as the national press secretary for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, the circumstances surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey were discussed.

Fallon, who publicly condemned Comey's action to disclose information about the investigation into Clinton's handling of classified material just before the election last year, portrayed Comey as someone who "knows the ways of Washington very well" and seemed to echo some of the criticisms of Comey levied by Trump last week.

"He's very concerned at all times with optics," said Fallon. "He's very familiar with Washington parlor games and knows how to curry favor in Washington circles."

In an interview with NBC last week after the firing, Trump labeled Comey a "showboat" and a "grandstander."

While agreeing with many of the critiques of Comey's handling of the Clinton situation outlined by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a letter to the president last week before the director's dismissal, Fallon said that the timing of the termination was a bigger issue.

"You can't ... as Rod Rosenstein, as the highest-ranking Justice Department official who's not recused in this case, sign off on the firing at a time when there's an active investigation into the president's own campaign," said Fallon.

Asked for his opinion on who should take the helm of the bureau, he selected someone who was a finalist for the position the last time around, Lisa Monaco, who was an assistant attorney general for national security and a homeland security adviser in the Obama administration.

"[She] has the respect of national security professionals and prosecutors," said Fallon.

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