Former CIA Director Weighs In On Potential Release Of GOP Memo
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Let's take a step back now and consider what this whole memo controversy may tell us about relations between Trump's White House and the FBI or, for that matter, between the White House and the intelligence community writ large. For that perspective, we will call on John McLaughlin who served decades in that intelligence community, including as acting director of the CIA. Hey, John.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Good afternoon, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Good afternoon. In your view, should this memo be made public? What do you think?
MCLAUGHLIN: No. I think it's a complete perversion of the intelligence oversight process. We have to remember that these two intelligence committees were created back in 1975 with a specific idea in mind. After some abuses had been uncovered by the CIA, the FBI, the Watergate, the idea here was that the Congress would get every bit of intelligence that the executive agency produced in return for dealing with it in a nonpartisan way, providing perspective, honest criticism of intelligence and discretion. And that has been unraveling for some years. But now with this latest episode, I think it descends into near total fecklessness.
KELLY: The idea was the intelligence committees were supposed to be nonpartisan because intelligence was too important. It was supposed to be above politics.
MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. These were the committees in Congress that were supposed to be above partisan politics more than any other committee. And in this case, the chairman has moved it right into the partisan arena.
KELLY: Well, is there a case to be made, though, with this situation, with this memo that keeping it secret will only feed conspiracy theories?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, some people will always have conspiracy theories, but there's another way to deal with this, and it's very simple. The committee needs to do its job. It's that simple. They don't need to be having dueling memos in public just confusing the public basically, I think. They ought to be having a hearing perhaps behind closed doors even in which they bring the FBI and others in when they have concerns about something like a warrant, which is extraordinarily important, and hear it out. Have it out with them. Find out - put their grievances on the table. Ask people to explain, and deal with it that way. That's how oversight is supposed to work. That's what I think the American people expect their elected representatives to do.
KELLY: You said the intelligence committee needs to do its job. House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in on that question today and said this memo is proof that the committee is doing its job, that Congress is exercising appropriate oversight over the intelligence committees. Do you disagree?
MCLAUGHLIN: I disagree. I think Congressman Ryan here - Speaker Ryan is actually complicit in destroying intelligence oversight as it has been conducted in the best of times. He is responsible for, among other things - he's an ex officio, a member of these committees. The committees have the responsibility for protecting sources and methods for doing this in a nonpartisan way. And if he really believed that, if he really favored transparency, he would hold all of this up. If he wanted to put the memo out, he would put it out simultaneously with the Democratic rebuttal commentary on it and let the public see both and decide what they think. The only thing transparent about this at this point is that it's being done for partisan gain.
KELLY: I wanted to just make clear for people listening to this - I said you served decades in the intelligence community. You served under both Republican and Democratic presidents and administrations for many years.
MCLAUGHLIN: I did, yeah. Let me make clear. I don't normally talk about politics. I served for seven different presidents. I was nominated and confirmed by President Clinton. I served under President Bush as deputy director.
KELLY: I want to ask about something we just heard our reporter Ryan Lucas say a moment ago. He described this standoff as a, quote, "weird situation." So let me ask you, John McLaughlin, how weird? I mean, this is Trump's handpicked FBI director that he is doing battle with.
MCLAUGHLIN: It's totally weird. I want you to step back, listeners, for just a minute, and contemplate what's going on here. We're on the verge if this goes forward of the president of the United States authorizing the public release of a document that one of his major national security officials, the director of the FBI, says is essentially false and that his Justice Department has said is not accurate. That has never happened in the history of congressional oversight or in the history of presidential relations with Congress or with the intelligence community. And it must leave the public totally baffled about what to think.
KELLY: John McLaughlin, former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now at Johns Hopkins University - thank you, John.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.