WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's friction with the intelligence community is fostering a "lack of trust" atmosphere and damaging morale, former CIA Director Leon Panetta told NBC's Chuck Todd.
Panetta, speaking on Sunday's "Meet The Press," said of the relationship: "Obviously, it's not a good situation."
"Because there is a lack of trust between the president and the intelligence community, and between the intelligence community and the president. And, you know, every time he demeans the intelligence community or accuses it of leaks or accuses it of doing things that it's not doing, that obviously impacts on the morale of that institution," he added.
Panetta served as both CIA director and secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama, and worked as the White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton.
Trump has long been critical of the intelligence community, targeting its flawed assessment of threats before the war in Iraq, questioning its conclusions about Russia's attempts to influence the election, and recently comparing some leaks to Nazi Germany.
"Look, these are good people," Panetta continued. "They're not Republicans or Democrats. They're good patriots who are trying to do their job. It's a tough job. They've got to put their lives on the line in order to provide information to the president. The last thing they need is to have a president who questions their patriotism to this country and to him."
But those controversial leaks the president has been railing against aren't necessarily exclusive to the Trump administration, Panetta indicated. "I've been involved in politics for a long time," he said. "And I've served two presidents and have worked under nine presidents. Leaks are a problem that every president has complained about."
But building loyalty between the intelligence agencies and the executive branch can help prevent leaks from happening, Panetta continued.
"The most important thing you can do to stop leaks is to establish loyalty between the people that are working for you and the president of the United States. If you establish that sense of loyalty then he won't have to worry about leaks," he said.
Panetta did, however, say that a recent report in the Wall Street Journal claiming that intelligence officers were withholding sensitive information from the president out of concerns that it could be compromised is not believable, saying it would be a "violation of their oath."
"In my experience, I have never had intelligence officers who have a responsibility to provide full information to the president and to other leaders in the country ever withhold a piece of intelligence," he said.
"Your first responsibility is to provide the truth to the president. And if you start thinking about how the president's going to use it, what he's going to do with that information, then frankly, you'll never provide the truth to the president. And that's what intelligence officers are supposed to do."