02:28 - Source: CNN
Panetta: Trump needs grown-ups around him

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"This is not a joke. This is very serious business that relates to the security of this country," Panetta says

Trump can't just "do or say or speak whatever the hell he wants," former CIA director says

Washington CNN —  

Veteran national security official Leon Panetta rebuked the Trump administration following reports that the President had shared highly classified information with Russian officials.

“This is not a joke. This is very serious business that relates to the security of this country,” Panetta told “New Day” co-host Chris Cuomo Tuesday morning. “I watch this President rationalize these kinds of things. And the problem that really bothers me is that it undermines the credibility of the office of the presidency.”

Panetta – whose government service includes terms as secretary of defense, director of the CIA and White House chief of staff – slammed Trump and his aides for the explosive disclosure, condemning it in both national security and political terms.

“The American people need to understand that you don’t just get intelligence out of thin air. You get intelligence because we deploy spies, because we deploy people who are willing to put their lives on the line, and because we work with other intelligence agencies around the world that help provide that kind of information. But it is done on the basis of competence and trust,” he explained.

Rebutting Trump’s claim made in a series of early morning tweets Tuesday that he has “the absolute right” to declassify information, Panetta was unmoved.

“Sure, obviously, presidents can do whatever they want. But what is the damage? The damage is that this country (sharing the intel) may cut off any kind of intelligence provided to the United States on very sensitive issues that relate to the national security of this country.”

“The President needs to have some grown-ups around him that make very clear what the lines are here,” he urged. “(Trump) cannot just do or say or speak whatever the hell he wants. That’s just irresponsible.”

Panetta cast the latest controversy buffeting the Trump administration in stark terms: “If he continues to operate in this way, there are serious questions about the credibility of the office and the trust the American people can have in this presidency.”

He continued, “I say, Mr. President, you are the president of the United States. You are not just a TV personality. You are a president of the United States. You have a responsibility to speak clearly, with authority, and to speak in a way that doesn’t hurt this country.”