Michael Morell, who twice served as acting director of the CIA before leaving the agency in 2013, has come to a surprising conclusion as of late: he perhaps should have considered more heavily the ramifications of his public support of Hillary Clinton for president.
In August of 2016, Morell wrote an op-ed supporting Clinton in The New York Times. In an interview with Politico Monday, Morell says he now realizes “there were downsides to [being vocal about the election] that [he] didn’t think about at the time.”
Morell maintains that he made considerations before he aligned himself publicly with Hillary, but insufficiently so:
“I was concerned about what is the impact it would have on the agency, right? Very concerned about that, thought that through. But I don’t think I fully thought through the implications.”
Morell recognizes now that he was part of an impression being made on Trump, which began during the campaign and would carry into the White House:
“So, let’s put ourselves here in Donald Trump’s shoes. So, what does he see? Right? He sees a former director of CIA and a former director of NSA, Mike Hayden, who I have the greatest respect for, criticizing him and his policies. Right? And he could rightfully have said, ‘Huh, what’s going on with these intelligence guys?’ Right?”
Things got worse as Trump became the official nominee:
“And then he sees a former acting director and deputy director of CIA criticizing him and endorsing his opponent...And then he gets his first intelligence briefing, after becoming the Republican nominee, and within 24 to 48 hours, there are leaks [to NBC] out of that that are critical of him and his then-national security advisor, Mike Flynn [for repeatedly interrupting intelligence briefings].”
In retrospect, according to Morell, his actions — and those of others in the agency, with regard to making their politics known — would have a major impact on relations between the intelligence community and the President-elect, if that president were to be Donald Trump:
"And so, this stuff starts to build, right? And he must have said to himself, ‘What is it with these intelligence guys? Are they political?’ The current director at the time, John Brennan, during the campaign occasionally would push back on things that Donald Trump had said…Then he becomes president, and he’s supposed to be getting a daily brief from the moment he becomes the president-elect. Right? And he doesn’t. And within a few days, there’s leaks about how he’s not taking his briefing. So, he must have thought—right?—that, ‘Who are these guys? Are these guys out to get me? Is this a political organization? Can I think about them as a political organization when I become president?'"
Morell obviously wishes he had done differently so as to not contribute to a divide between President Trump and intelligence agencies, given the critical nature of the Commander-in-Chief's relationship to those organizations:
“So, I think there was a significant downside to those of us who became political in that moment. So, if I could have thought of that, would I have ended up in a different place? I don’t know. But it’s something I didn’t think about.”
Morell is right -- national security should come before politics, and the safety of the nation is dependent upon our branches and systems of government working together. President Trump hasn't exactly had a warm welcome, from former CIA director John Brennan saying in November that Trump had been "played" by Putin, to February's Washington Post op-ed by former National Security Council spokesman Edward Price, "I Didn’t Think I’d Ever Leave the CIA. But Because of Trump, I Quit."
Morell takes a step in the right direction to realize the necessity of a nurtured, non-partisan relationship between the President and security agencies. Hopefully, in Morell's increasing understanding of the crucial nature of amicable relations between the two, he is not alone.