The current political turmoil in the US concerning the alleged Russian interference in last year’s elections and response of US President Donald Trump are sending a wrong signal to the world, a former US spymaster and defence secretary said on Sunday.
“It is sending a terrible message out there,” Leon Panetta, who served as the CIA chief and Defence Secretary in the Obama administration, told CBS News in an interview.
“Based on my own conversations with people abroad, that they are very concerned about the administration, about the President. They are concerned about whether he truly is going to be committed to the kind of world leadership that we have seen the US provide,” he said.
Panetta was responding to questions on alleged Russian interference in 2016 general elections and Trump’s allegations that his predecessor Barack Obama had ordered wiretapping of the Trump Tower before the elections.
“But every time these things happen, every time he tweets, every time these issues come up that indicate that there is obviously something to this Russian issue, and the administration is not cooperating, when that happens, when he accuses a past president of wiretapping, without any evidence of that being the case, it makes us vulnerable.
“It weakens the US, and it makes us vulnerable to our enemies. That is the danger,” Panetta warned.
Panetta alleged that Trump is making the same mistake past presidents made when they faced scandals, that he is trying to divert attention.
“They are trying to obfuscate. They are trying to cover up. They are trying to somehow raise other issues. In the end, it is going to be the truth that will determine what is involved here, and not tweets, but the truth,” he said.
Calling for an independent bipartisan investigation into the issue, Panetta said the best advice he could give Trump and his administration is to get ahead of this and do not get behind it.
“Get ahead of it. Present the facts as they know it, and commit themselves to cooperating with the investigations that are going on. This issue is not going away. There is too much here. We have found the Russians to have tried to interfere in our election process.
“We have a situation now where the administration has denied contacts with the Russians. And we are finding out that that is not true, that there have been contacts with the Russians,” Panetta said.
“The president himself has raised this issue. His whole national security team has condemned the Russians and Putin. And he still winds up defending Putin. So, you put all of that together, it may not lead you to some kind of collaboration or collusion, but it raises issues that have to be investigated. That is why you need a bipartisan, an independent, a thorough and a credible investigation,” he added.