Hayden, former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency, was making his first appearance on CNN since suffering a stroke last fall. He was asked by CNN’s Don Lemon about comments made by Trump in an interview with ABC News that aired on June 12.
In that interview, Trump said he would listen if a foreign government approached him with damaging information about a political rival — and he wouldn’t necessarily report the contact to the FBI.
“It’s awful. It’s awful,” Hayden told Lemon, adding that kind of rhetoric harms intelligence agents’ abilities to do their jobs. “Now the next day, they go to work and do the best they can. But, you know, that’s really hard.”
Trump has consistently expressed nonchalance over foreign efforts to influence US politics. He downplayed Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 contest and cast doubts on US intelligence agencies’ assessments of the meddling.
Hayden said it’s “truly unbelievable” to see a President who’s willing to accepting damaging information about political rivals from a hostile foreign country. He added that the FBI would want to hear about any intelligence from foreigners.
Hayden, a retired four-star general, suffered a stroke last November.
He recounted to Lemon the experience of crawling to his wife, Jeanine, for help. During the stroke, Hayden said, “everything was a blur.”
Since then, Hayden has struggled with basic brain functions like reading and counting. But he says the stroke didn’t damage his higher-level processing.
“I am grateful that the stroke did not take my ability to understand and process and that my higher-level thinking was not affected. I am grateful my memory is strong,” Hayden wrote in a piece for CNN in May.