Former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta openly criticized President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday for consistently declining to attend intelligence briefings, stating that the blame would fall on Trump should an attack on the U.S take place.
Speaking at the Arab Strategy Forum conference, the former congressman told an audience, “I’ve seen presidents who have asked questions about whether that intelligence is verifiable, what are the sources for that intelligence, but I have never seen a president who said, ‘I don’t want that stuff.'”
“If we endure another attack, and the intelligence officials had indications or information regarding that attack, and the president did not want to listen to that, for whatever reason, the responsibility for that attack would fall on the president,” he continued.
Trump initially attended an average of one weekly intelligence briefing—although he sent Vice President-elect Mike Pence to an average of six per week. Sean Spicer, an official at the Republican National Committee who works with Trump’s transition team, told CNN that Trump recently upped the number of intelligence briefings he personally receives to three per week.
Panetta’s comments come just days after Trump told Fox News he didn’t need to go to briefings all the time because he was “a smart person.”
“You know, I’m a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same things in the same words every single day for the next eight years,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
In the same interview, the president-elect called the findings of a CIA report into the election hacks “ridiculous,” raising concern over how serious he took the government’s intelligence agencies. The CIA had concluded that Russia was behind the hacks on the Democratic National Convention and key Democrat officials, which may have influenced the election outcome in Trump’s favor.
Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
Panetta, a Democrat, addressed the president-elect’s attitude to the CIA’s findings too, saying, “When it comes to Russian interference in our last campaign, 17 intelligence agencies agree that Russia is involved in that effort. I think the president would do well to say we ought to find out what Russia’s role was, we ought to investigate it and ensure that it never happens again.”