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'Patently ridiculous': Former top intel officials hit back at Trump after criticism of bin Laden raid

"This president owes Admiral McRaven and all of the SEALS involved in that operation an apology for what he's saying," Leon Panetta said.
Navy Admiral Bill McRaven testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in 2012.
Navy Admiral Bill McRaven testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in 2012.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. file

Former top members of the intelligence community rebuked President Donald Trump on Monday for deriding the retired Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a "Hillary Clinton backer" and suggesting that he should have caught the al Qaeda leader sooner.

Responses to Trump's comments about retired Adm. Bill McRaven, who has criticized the president's attacks on the press, poured in Monday from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said Trump should apologize.

"This president owes Admiral McRaven and all of the SEALS involved in that operation an apology for what he's saying. He's undermining his position as commander-in-chief. Not only with those that conducted the operation, but with the entire military," Panetta, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama at the time of the 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" Monday.

In a public statement issued later in the day, Panetta said Trump's "statement criticizing McRaven for not getting Bin Laden sooner is patently ridiculous" and "demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of how our military and intelligence agencies operate."

Earlier in the day, Brennan, who was Obama's homeland security adviser at the time of the bin Laden raid and served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017, tweeted to Trump that "you constantly remind us how substantively shallow & dishonest you are on so many fronts, which is why we are in such dangerous times."

“You would need an extremely tall ladder to get anywhere near the level of intellect, competence & integrity of Bill McRaven & your predecessors,” Brennan, a prominent Trump critic, said on Twitter.

Brennan is a senior national security and intelligence analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.

Trump revoked Brennan's security clearance in August, prompting McRaven to write an opinion article for The Washington Post urging the president to revoke his clearance, as well, so that he could "add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."

Clapper, who served as Obama’s director of national intelligence from 2010 to 2017, told CNN Monday that the comments from the president were “kind of typical, unfortunately, of President Trump.”

He added that, “what this really is, rather than its misplaced criticism of Bill McRaven, it’s really a slam at the intelligence community, who was responsible for tracking down Osama Bin Laden.”

“It reflects, I think, his complete ignorance about what that took,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claims to have fired the shots that killed bin Laden, told NBC News' Hallie Jackson Monday that "what the president said about McRaven" was "a little inaccurate"

"The raid to get Osama bin Laden was not only bipartisan, it was non-partisan. Everybody involved wanted to get him as soon as we could get him," O'Neill said.

"Admiral McRaven is the reason that my SEAL team got it and Obama approved it. That's just as simple as it gets," he added.

In an interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday,” Trump blasted McRaven, who oversaw the raid, as a "Hillary Clinton fan" and said bin Laden should have been captured much sooner, though he did not explain how the Obama administration should have done so. The president made the comments after Wallace asked him about McRaven's criticism of Trump's attacks on the press.

Last year, McRaven, who did not make an endorsement in the 2016 presidential election, called Trump's lambasting of the news media possibly "the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime" during a speech at the University of Texas.

McRaven responded on Sunday, telling CNN that he did not support Clinton or anyone else in the 2016 election. He emphasized that partisanship did not play a role in his career.

On Monday morning, however, Trump doubled down on his remarks, tweeting that, "Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did."