Retired Adm. William McRaven on Sunday stood by his previous statement that President Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media represent “the greatest threat to democracy” after the President dismissed him as a “Hillary Clinton backer” in an interview that aired on Fox News.
“I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else,” McRaven, who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, told CNN. “I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times.”
“I stand by my comment that the President’s attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime,” McRaven said, referencing remarks he made about Trump last year. “When you undermine the people’s right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands.”
McRaven’s comment came just hours after “Fox News Sunday” aired an interview with Trump in which the President dismissed McRaven and criticized the military for having not killed bin Laden sooner.
Trump made the remarks during a tense exchange with Fox News’ Chris Wallace after the host brought up McRaven, a vocal Trump critic who led the bin Laden operation in 2011 during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of US Special Operations…” Wallace started.
“Hillary Clinton fan,” Trump said, cutting off Wallace.
“Special Operations …” Wallace continued.
“Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan,” Trump said.
“Who led the operations,” Wallace added, “commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime.”
“OK, he’s a Hilary Clinton backer and an Obama-backer, and frankly … wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that? Wouldn’t it have been nice? You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan.”
After Wallace asked if the President would give McRaven any credit for taking down bin Laden, Trump said “they took him down” but quickly shifted to talking about US aid to Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed.
In August, McRaven issued a stunning rebuke of Trump in an op-ed published in the Washington Post, writing that through his actions, Trump has “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.