Rumsfeld on Obama administration: ‘The trust factor is being eroded’

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised House Republicans looking into Obama administration scandals and censured President Barack Obama for abusing the public trust, in a recent interview with The Daily Caller.

“We’ll get to ground truth on it,” Rumsfeld said, referring to House probes into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups, the State Department’s mishandling of and dissembling about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, and the Justice Department’s secret surveillance of journalists at Associated Press and Fox News.

“The bigger problem, it seems to me, is that presidents don’t lead by committee,” the 81-year-old former Illinois congressman and Ford administration chief of staff continued. “They lead by consent, and to gain consent you have to be persuasive. To be persuasive you have to be believable, and what’s happened here is that the trust factor is being eroded in Washington. It’s getting eroded because of the way they handled Benghazi, it’s getting eroded because of the way they handled the Internal Revenue Service.”

“It’s being eroded because of this AP thing, that’s the one thing that got the media interested because it was their rights that were getting bullied,” Rumsfeld told TheDC. “About the AP issue, I must say that I’ve seen a lot of leaks and I’m against leaks because they can put our country at risk, they can put people’s lives at risk, but I’ve never seen anything like they did at the AP. Maybe there was some reason there was sufficient urgency, I just don’t know.”

The interview, during a party at the Claremont Institute in California for the new book “Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life,” took place before the most recent revelation that the National Security Agency — despite previous sworn testimony to the contrary by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — had seized phone records for all Verizon customers.

“On the Internal Revenue Service issue I think [the Obama officials involved] should sit down and confess, a leader should get people into a room, who wants to sit down and get to ground truth, knows that trustworthiness gets eroded if you allow stories to get out, and a week later you find out that they weren’t so, then they give an answer that was an answer of convenience,” Rumsfeld said.

“Don’t get me wrong, that’s a tough job, the president’s job is a tough one,” he said. “The White House staff is a tough series of jobs. In those jobs the days are long and the years are short. So I don’t envy them because they’ve got the perfect storm. But that doesn’t justify this idea that the President of the United States, when people are being killed, can campaign and fly off to Las Vegas and give a campaign speech and then pretend that the only thing where he was responsible for was killing Bin Laden but he’s not responsible for the IRS or Benghazi or the AP thing. I think the big risk he faces is not one of those things, but all of those things undermine his trustworthiness. I think you lose your leverage and you’re weakened substantially.”

Rumsfeld rejected the idea that Benghazi showed a need to change the procedure for safeguarding embassies, saying, “Just because [the embassy defense system] isn’t managed properly doesn’t mean that there is anything basically wrong with that system.”

The real problem, he said, is that the administration hadn’t done a good enough job understanding the realities on the ground.

“In the case of Benghazi, the Brits knew that al-Qaida-related people were in the area and they didn’t have the ability to defend their people, so they pulled out,” he said. “Our people knew that the al-Qaida-related terrorist people were in that area and they asked for additional security and were turned down by the State Department.”

Rumsfeld continued: “If you have people some place you should protect them. And if you can’t protect them or you don’t want to protect them then you should pull out. It’s OK, we don’t have to be everywhere. … It’s just not the way things ought to be done,” he said, pointing out that there were “just too many elements with all kinds of weapons” for the State Department to trust the safety of the consulate to the Libyan forces.

Rumsfeld suspects the Obama administration decided to blame the attack on an obscure trailer for an unseen Internet video because Obama wanted to preserve its narrative of victory in the War on Terror.

“I don’t know precisely what took place but I’ve talked to a lot of people and a lot of people have talked to me and it appears to me that the election was going on and the narrative was that Osama bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive and that terrorist bombs weren’t real and we were all OK,” Rumsfeld told TheDC.

“And what happened there didn’t fit that narrative and as a result we have people peddling the concept that it was a YouTube video that incited a spontaneous demonstration and it turns out that that just wasn’t true and that was promoted, promoted, promoted. That adds to the point that President Obama went to the UN and tried to continue that false narrative which didn’t fit his election plans. Obviously the truth didn’t.”

“Now Mrs. Clinton went to the families of those killed and said we are going to find the person who did that video and punish them, implying that the person who did that video had something to do with it. Now if that happened, we’ll find out. The [Issa] hearings are a good thing, we’ll get to the ground truth on it.”

“One of the rules [in his new book] — I forget who said it — is that trust leaves on horseback and comes back on foot. He can lose it very rapidly and it takes a lot to earn it back.”

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