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Ex-CIA director tells Vero of concerns about Trump

Photo: Former director of the NSA and CIA, retired general Michael Hayden during his lecture at the Emerson Center.

The more Michael Hayden said during his visit to Vero Beach last weekend,  the more it became obvious he's hoping for the best from the next American president but bracing for something less.

Maybe far less.

During an exclusive interview with Vero Beach 32963 between his two Celebrated Speakers Series lectures Saturday at the Emerson Center, the former director of the National Security Agency (1999-2005) and Central Intelligence Agency (2006-2009) expressed numerous concerns about President-elect Donald Trump.

Among them were Trump's damaged relationship with the U.S. intelligence community, inability to endure criticism of any kind, unrestrained use of Twitter, sometimes-volatile temperament, often-antagonistic rhetoric – and inexplicable affection for Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Hayden also shared doubts that Trump would seek and abide by the counsel he receives from his cabinet nominees, several of whom he described as "good choices" for their positions.

"We could have a second consecutive president who believes he's the smartest guy in the room, no matter who else is in the room," said Hayden, a retired Air Force four-star general who was once the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.

"That's a really powerful cabinet he's putting together," he added, "but will he listen to these people?"

Last summer, Hayden was among 50 prominent foreign policy and national security experts who, despite having served under Republican administrations, signed a highly publicized letter denouncing Trump's candidacy and pledging to not vote for him.

In the letter, the signers said they were "convinced" that Trump would be the "most reckless president in American history."

Hayden said he still stands by the concerns and sentiments expressed in that letter, and he will continue to do so "until I see evidence to the contrary." However, he also said he will give Trump a chance to prove him wrong.

"I pay attention to what he says, and most of what he says makes me feel uncomfortable, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Hayden said. "Let's see what he does."

However, other than Trump's nominees for Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson), Secretary of Defense (James Mattis), Secretary of Homeland Security (John Kelly) and CIA Director (Mike Pompeo), Hayden hasn't liked much of what he has seen and heard from the president-elect during the transition.

Hayden said he was particularly troubled by Trump's demoralizing Twitter attacks on the U.S. intelligence community after its "fact-based assessment" that Russian hackers had sabotaged the presidential campaign of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton in an attempt to influence the election.

"He's been disparaging, challenging the competence and integrity of the intelligence community, and that's going to leave a mark," Hayden said. "I'm not saying it's fatal. He can recover from this, and the intel folks will continue to do their duty.

"But being equated to Nazis? Being called incompetent? Being called politicized and corrupt? Yeah, that's not going away any time soon," he continued. "And, by the way, these folks were accused of all those things because they were trying to tell the president-elect something they believe is true – something that he didn't really disagree with, factually, but something he didn't want to be the truth because it involves the legitimacy of his presidency.

"But that's his instinct," he added. "When he feels insulted or under attack or crossed, he comes out swinging. He admits it; he says he's a counter-puncher. But he needs to realize that these guys aren't trying to hurt him. They're trying to help him.

"That's what's so sad about this: He's going to need these guys, they're going to have to work with him and they need to know that he has their backs. So why alienate them?"