Trump 'Enjoys Rolling Hand Grenades In A Room' With Policy Decisions, Leon Panetta Says

Download Audio
Former Defense Secretary and former CIA director Leon Panetta, pictured here in 2016, says President Trump decertifying the Iran nuclear deal would lead to "turmoil and chaos." (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Former Defense Secretary and former CIA director Leon Panetta, pictured here in 2016, says President Trump decertifying the Iran nuclear deal would lead to "turmoil and chaos." (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Trump is pushing back on reports that his White House is in chaos. Vanity Fair reported Wednesday that people close to Trump say he is "unstable" and "unraveling."

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson gets some perspective on the Trump White House from Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff for President Clinton, and as both CIA director and secretary of defense under President Obama.

Interview Highlights

On the Trump White House and chief of staff John Kelly's effectiveness

"This is all about the ability of the president to govern this country. I mean this is not reality TV, it's not a television show. This is about a president of the United States either assuming the responsibility of governing this country, or rejecting that responsibility in favor of turmoil. And if that's what he's choosing to do, then you can have the best chain of command in the White House, you can have all of the discipline you want with the staff, but the main and fundamental purpose of the presidency is not being fulfilled, which is governing the country."

On Trump's approach to North Korea

"I think that the president is frustrated by not having any good options — that's not new. Every president has been frustrated by the options in North Korea. But I think what he has to accept is that ultimately it demands a policy of containment and deterrence: building up our military capabilities, providing a missile shield there, working with our allies, continuing to put harder sanctions in place and continuing to try to work with the Chinese. That's what's involved here. And as frustrating as it may be, that very frankly is the only option that is available to this president."

On the prospect of Trump decertifying the Iran nuclear deal

"I think it's a terrible mistake. This president seems to handle, whether it's foreign policy or domestic policy ... he kind of enjoys rolling hand grenades in a room and watching the turmoil that results from that. He just wants to shake things up for the purpose of shaking things up. And that's what he's doing here now with Iran as well. There's a wrong way and a right way to deal with the concerns about Iran. The right way to do it is to recognize that we do have to, in the very least, limit their ability to develop a nuclear weapon, which is what this agreement was all about. Regardless of the other concerns about Iran, it has been effective at doing that, and the inspectors have certified that they're abiding by that agreement.

"Secondly, to stick with our allies — all of whom support the fact that Iran is abiding by it — and then use that relationship to try to develop an opening with Iran to develop a dialogue on the other concerns that we legitimately have with regards to Iran. But to just decertify the agreement, throw it to Congress and create this huge uncertainty, at the same time we're dealing with North Korea and somehow trying to open at least some kind of diplomatic channel to them, I just think it creates the kind of turmoil and chaos that makes it very difficult to have any sense of where this thing is going to take us in the future."

On the likelihood of Trump being able to get a tax overhaul through Congress this year

"I think what you've touched on is one of the fundamental problems that is affecting the president at this point in time, which is the frustration that he's getting nothing done. And so he's reacting to that. Frankly, what he needs to understand is that his biggest problem is governing. He's gotta be able to govern. He's gotta be able to work with people like Sen. [Bob Corker] and others in the Congress if he's going to deliver on tax reform. He hasn't been able to do that. He doesn't have anybody in the White House who seems to have the ability to do that. And so out of frustration, he's striking out at people. And the more he does that, the more he diminishes his ability to deliver on anything."

On how much the Trump administration's actions are driven by undoing former President Obama's actions

"There's no question I think that plays a role. But if you're president of the United States, you're gonna be tested in history by what you accomplish, not what you've torn down. Not the bridges that you've brought down, but the bridges that you have built. And very frankly right now this president has built no bridges — whether it's on trade, whether it's on foreign policy, whether it's on dealing with the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] students, whether it's on dealing with health care or tax reform. He doesn't understand how to build bridges. And unless you're able to do that, no matter how much you denounce your predecessor, the public is going to hold you to task for failing to improve the lives of the American people."

This article was originally published on October 12, 2017.

This segment aired on October 12, 2017.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live