Panetta: Trump wiretapping claim "undermines and weakens" the presidency

Washington listens when Leon Panetta speaks. He was President Clinton’s chief of staff, the CIA director when Osama bin Laden was killed, and defense secretary under President Obama. That is why Scott Pelley asked Panetta for his perspective on President Trump’s various outbursts in recent weeks, including the unproven charge that Mr. Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.


SCOTT PELLEY: In the last few weeks, the president has told his military that there are terrorist attacks no one knows about because the press covers them up. He’s described the news media as the enemy of the American people. He has likened his own intelligence agencies to Nazis. And now we have the wiretapping charge against President Obama. Is it appropriate to ask whether the president is having difficulty with rationality?

LEON PANETTA: Scott, the coin of the realm for any president is trust. Trust of the American people in the credibility of that president. And when he says the things that he says, in particular this allegation about wiretapping that has no bit of evidence to support it, it raises concerns about trust in the president.

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Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

CBS News

Because there are one or two conclusions you draw. One is that he says these things knowing that they’re not true in order to divert the public. And if he’s doing that he’s misusing the powers of the presidency. Or he truly believes that they are true when, indeed, they’re not true. And, he hasn’t tried to find out the truth which then shows a real lack of judgment. Either way I think it undermines and weakens the strength of the presidency in this country.

PELLEY: How is this calculated in Moscow, in Beijing, in Pyongyang, North Korea?

PANETTA: Well, that’s the greatest danger. You know, in many ways we, we’ve seen the president say the things he’s done and, you know, we often kind of move on. But the danger is what if something should happen that requires the president of the United States to take action? For example, we’re dealing with North Korea and the threats from North Korea.

What if the president decides that we have to take military action as a result of that? Or what if we find out that Iran is actually developing a nuclear weapon and that it requires military action? He’s gotta stand up and tell the world and this country, that that’s required when, indeed, his credibility is now subject to question. I think, I think that is raising the most serious danger with regards to the ability of this president to relate to a very dangerous world.

PELLEY: And what about his domestic agenda?

PANETTA: In order for a president to be able to deal with members on the Hill he’s gotta have credibility. And if he’s dismissed because somehow he’s not relevant because people don’t think he’s really in touch with kind of reality and what’s going on, then that could damage his entire agenda on the domestic front.

PELLEY: We appreciate your time. We are grateful. Thank you.