19 January 2019

McChrystal Fires Back at Trump

By Paul D. Shinkman

The former general criticized the president for reports that he hid details of meetings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP risked damaging the U.S. government's broader ability to counter what the Pentagon considers one of its most troubling adversaries if he concealed details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, says a former top general who has wrought criticism from Trump in recent weeks.

"It's not good government," retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal tells U.S. News. "We don't have a head of state that runs the U.S. We necessarily have a team of people because it's just too big a job. And that team of people has to work together to be effective."

"Particularly in very sensitive issues like our relationship with one of our primary adversaries – Russia – we have to be very well synced on that," says McChrystal, who ran the Joint Special Operations Command that planned some of the military's most secretive missions before serving as the top commander for the war in Afghanistan. He was dismissed in 2010 by President Barack Obama after members of his staff criticized Vice President Joe Biden and other senior White House officials to a magazine reporter.

McChrystal was responding to a report in The Washington Post – and subsequently in other outlets – that Trump went to "extraordinary lengths" to hide details of his meetings with Putin in recent years. In at least one incident, he reportedly confiscated a translator's notes and instructed that person not to discuss the details of the meeting, even with other American officials.

The president's actions, if true, raise questions about what he was trying to conceal. Withholding such information, as McChrystal points out, would deny other senior U.S. leaders and government agencies critical information they require to inform their own efforts.

White House spokespeople, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump himself have blasted the reporting but have not directly refuted details in the story. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked Trump when he called in to her show Saturday night whether he has previously or currently works for Russia. Trump responded, "I think it's one of the most insulting things I've ever been asked." On Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he has never worked for Russia.

The report in the Post centered on a meeting between the two leaders in Hamburg in 2017, but it suggested that the incident represented a broader pattern of Trump keeping private his interactions with the Russian leader. It added that no detailed documents exist of the meetings, even in classified form.

"It's critical that other key players know," McChrystal says of the details of the meeting. "It will certainly be obvious to the other side that we're not coordinating because they'll talk to one official and get something different, and they'll realize there's daylight [between top levels of government]."

McChrystal was criticized by Trump earlier this month for saying in December that he believes the former businessman and reality TV star is dishonest and immoral. Trump in his first tweet of the new year attacked the retired general – whose task force hunted down and killed senior al-Qaida leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 – citing his 2010 dismissal and accusing him of having political biases toward former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

"'General' McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!" the commander in chief wrote.

"We're in an extraordinary administration right now," McChrystal tells U.S. News, "in which trust in the administration and trust in the president's relationships, particularly with Russia, is seriously challenged."

"Putin could have talked about the weather in there, but unless people know, they're going to assume something different. And that's got a negative side to it," says McChrystal, who runs the McChrystal Group consulting firm and frequently writes and speaks about leadership. "If people don't have trust in the kinds of conversations being had, then they need to be even more transparent than they otherwise might be."

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