Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised President Donald Trump on Thursday for installing a “first-rate” national security team around him and operating as a “chief executive.”
Rumsfeld, twice the defense secretary under former Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford, claimed no personal knowledge of or relationship with Trump and sidestepped a question from NBC’s “Today” show about whether the president possesses the gravitas to inhabit the White House.
“I am old-fashioned. If I don’t know somebody, I’m inclined not to pretend I do,” he told anchor Matt Lauer, instead offering admiration for the president’s hiring practices.
“In this case, what is a chief executive’s most important task? It’s to select good people,” Rumsfeld said. “And I look at his Supreme Court nominee, his vice president, his secretary of state, his secretary of defense. I think his national security team is really first-rate.”
Also praiseworthy in Rumsfeld’s estimation was Trump’s willingness to remove former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose misrepresentations to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. were reported by The Washington Post. Flynn has since found himself at the center of multiple investigations into his ties to the Russian government and its campaign to interfere with last year’s presidential election.
“The other thing a chief executive has to do is when you make a mistake on personnel, fix it. They don’t get better with time. And he did. The national security adviser was changed,” Rumsfeld said.
Asked about Trump’s alleged willingness to share presumably sensitive national security information, as he reportedly did last month during a phone call with the president of the Philippines, Rumsfeld said that such a move is at times a legitimate strategy to put U.S. adversaries on notice. The president’s decision, according to a transcript of his conversation with his Filipino counterpart, to share the general location of two U.S. nuclear submarines might be such a situation, Rumsfeld suggested.
“There are times you don’t want to share that kind of information and then there are times you do, where, as a deterrent, you consciously let people know where your capabilities are,” he said. “Most countries don’t have the ability to know where our nuclear subs or where our aircraft carriers are, and what we do on occasion is to purposely let people know that we deploy capabilities in certain parts of the world so that they’ll be careful.”