WASHINGTON – Retired four-star Admiral William McRaven – the leader of the operation that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden – fired back after President Donald Trump dismissed him as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama-backer” in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday.
Trump made the comment during an exchange with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace about the president’s labeling of the news media – or at least the media he doesn’t like – of being the “enemy of the American people.”
Wallace brought up McRaven’s assertion that Trump’s attitude toward the media constitutes “perhaps the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
“Hillary Clinton fan,” Trump said, interrupting Wallace the moment the Fox News host mentioned McRaven.
“Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan,” the president repeated, as Wallace tried to continue.
” … who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden, says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime,” Wallace said.
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“OK, he’s a Hilary Clinton backer and an Obama-backer and frankly … ” Trump replied.
“He was a Navy SEAL 37 years,” Wallace interjected.
Trump then pondered how “nice” it would have been “if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner” and implied finding him in Pakistan should have been easy.
“I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else,” McRaven said in a statement to CNN on Sunday in response to Trump’s comments. “I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for.”
McRaven said he admires all presidents, “regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the Nation together in challenging times.”
“I stand by my comment that the President’s attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people’s right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands.”
McRaven, who recently stepped down as chancellor of the University of Texas system, first made his comment about Trump’s threat to democracy while speaking with journalism students in February 2017. He then wrote about the exchange in a blog post.
The retired admiral also went after Trump in an August letter published in The Washington Post for revoking former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance.
“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he wrote.
“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”
McRaven served 37 years in the Navy before retiring in 2014. A former SEAL and special forces commander, McRaven led the 2011 operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan. And he ran the task force that hunted down former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Trump has had a contentious relationship with the news media since he announced his candidacy in 2015. He began to refer to coverage he disliked as “fake news” after the 2016 election – co-opting a term that had previously been applied to overtly false social media stories disguised as news.
After taking office, he upped the ante, labeling media outlets he disliked the “enemy of the American people.”
This month, the Trump administration revoked the press credentials for CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after a heated exchange between Acosta and the president at a White House news conference. On Friday a federal judge ordered Acosta’s credential be returned.
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