Ex-CIA director's advice: Do not serve this president

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Michael Hayden, Donald Trump (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: David Orrell/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Image, Evan Vucci/AP)

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has some surprising advice for one-time colleagues who ask whether they should take a job working for President Trump: Don’t do it. You will only endanger your own future and reputation.

In a new interview featured on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery,” Hayden said it’s been hard to watch top Trump administration officials — including former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and others — defend an often indefensible president.

“The longer they were in the administration, the more their personal credentials were being threatened,” Hayden said. “At what point do you stop being a guardrail and become an enabler and a legitimizer?”

Hayden lays out his views in his new book, “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies,” which serves as a searing indictment of a president who Hayden depicts as a congenital liar and a “useful idiot” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The former CIA chief is quick to acknowledge that Trump is not the first modern president to have an attenuated relationship to the truth. Hayden himself served as CIA chief under a president (George W. Bush) who took the country to war based on false claims about the threat posed by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

“We’ve had presidents who lie, who have argued with us, who have disagreed with our version of objective reality,” said Hayden, without naming which ones he had in mind.

But Trump, he said, is in a category all to himself.

“The difference here is this seems to be a president who bases a fair number of decisions on something other than a view of objective reality,” he said.

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” by Yahoo News

Hayden clicks off multiple examples of Trump’s falsehoods, from his insistence that former President Barack Obama had him wiretapped at Trump Tower to the president’s claim — belied by all the scientific evidence — that global warming is a hoax.

Just as troubling as Trump’s propensity to misrepresent reality, according to Hayden, is the president’s constant demand for extreme fealty from his subordinates — an extreme threat to vital American institutions.

“What we have is the president inarguably demanding of both the institutions and their leadership that their first priority is personal loyalty to him rather than to the norms that have governed their behavior for a couple of centuries,” Hayden said.

As jarring as it is to hear a retired four-star Air Force general  — and former director of the National Security Agency — tell former colleagues not to enlist in government service under Trump, Hayden’s advice comes with several caveats: He mainly recommends that more seasoned former officials sit out the Trump administration. Those who are younger should still take the opportunity to serve in government. But when they do, Hayden advises they should “take notes” — a practice former FBI Director James Comey adopted on his own.

“Remember your own moral thresholds,” Hayden said, adding: “You may want to keep a draft letter [of resignation} in your desk drawer.”

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