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Former CIA Director On National Security Implications Of Trump's Health

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

John Brennan, former director of the CIA, is no fan of Donald Trump's. He has called the president a disgraced demagogue who belongs in the dustbin of history. But Brennan wants you to know he is rooting for the president to get better.

JOHN BRENNAN: I believe all Americans should wish Donald Trump a full and speedy recovery. I think the American people certainly deserve to have two healthy candidates in the election in November.

KELLY: When I spoke with John Brennan today, I asked about the national security implications of a sitting U.S. president testing positive for a deadly virus. Brennan offered two thoughts.

BRENNAN: First, we have to look at whether or not any of our global adversaries may try to take advantage of the distraction taking place right now.

KELLY: And second, Brennan raises the medication the president has been prescribed.

BRENNAN: At least according to some reports, some of these drugs can lead to greater impulsiveness or confusion. And I hope that's not the case because as much as I disagree with Donald Trump, I do want him to have his full mental capacity as he continues to carry out the offices of the presidency.

KELLY: Let me follow up on a couple of things you said. One is the question of what our adversaries might be thinking right now, what they might be trying to figure out. I want to read you a quote I saw over the weekend. Your former colleague, Steve Hall, the former chief of CIA Russia operations, tweeted, there's no doubt that Russian intelligence services have intelligence on Trump's condition. And he says there's no doubt they're working to get more. Do you agree?

BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely. I think if Putin was in the same situation, our intelligence agencies would be doing everything possible to understand exactly the state of his health and to see whether or not his medical illness is having any implications for Russia's security posture. I'm sure that it's not just Russian intelligence but other intelligence agencies as well.

KELLY: Other intelligence agencies - that China would be interested, Iran would be interested in this. And understanding this is hard to talk about in an unclassified setting, what type things are they looking at? Are they targeting Walter Reed, for example, where the president has been hospitalized over the weekend?

BRENNAN: Well, I think these services and countries have both technical and human sources of information - telephone calls, other types of things - that I'm sure are taking place and not in a secure manner among the - Donald Trump's aides, family, members of the Cabinet, also among the medical team that's taking care of him. Any intelligence service is going to tap whatever source of information might have access to information related to Trump's health.

KELLY: It does seem like a huge vulnerability from a national security point of view that we, meaning we Americans and the rest of the world, don't know either how sick the president is or how widely the virus may have spread within the highest ranks of U.S. government.

BRENNAN: Well, right. And I think we keep hearing about individuals who are testing positive, and hopefully they're going to all fully recover. But who else is going to come down with this virus that has responsibilities in the government? And that's why, you know, I looked at China - might they decide to do something in Hong Kong now or is the South China Sea? While Trump is focused on his health, might Russia decide to do something in Belarus or another country, taking advantage of what they see as a possible opportunity? And I'm just hoping that there's not going to be an impulsiveness on the part of Donald Trump reacting to some developments that take place around the world.

KELLY: You've worked in the White House. You served under six presidents. What do you make of what seems to be a reluctance on the part of the White House to even discuss in any way, shape or form the possibility of transferring power temporarily to the vice president?

BRENNAN: Well, there are very clear guidelines and policies regarding the transfer of power from a president to a vice president. If a president is tragically assassinated or clearly incapacitated from the standpoint of being unconscious or gravely ill, then there are mechanisms in place. Also there is a mechanism for a president who believes that he or she may not be able to carry out those duties to pass over those responsibilities to a vice president. Clearly, I think Donald Trump will do everything possible to hold on to those powers of the presidency. I don't think, given his character, that he will give that up. And will Vice President Pence and the Cabinet try to take those powers from him if he's unable to carry out his duties, I think there's going to be a great reluctance there as well. So I think you're going to see a bit of a standoff right now between Donald Trump and his Cabinet if it comes to the point that the Cabinet and the vice president decide that they should arrest (ph) power from him.

KELLY: Former CIA Chief John Brennan - he is out this week with a memoir titled "Undaunted," in which he writes about his long career in U.S. intelligence and his hopes and fears for this country going forward. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.