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Kerrey concerned by Trump view of military, judiciary, press

November 24, 2018

On this Thanksgiving Day, Bob Kerrey was in London with his family and sorry that thousands of members of the U.S. military in which he once served were at the Mexican border.

Away from their homes on this holiday because of a president who Kerrey said appears to regard the military as “a political device rather than an instrument to serve the country.”

“I’m sorry they’re there; that was true politics,” he said during a telephone interview as his family prepared to go to dinner on a Wednesday night in London.

President Donald Trump described the large migration of Central American refugees moving toward the U.S. border as “an invasion” prior to the U.S. election two weeks ago, Kerrey said, and “what does he say after the election?”

Nothing, Kerrey said.

“And so a bunch of people are not going to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families,” he said. “They understand the deal. It’s hardly a mission.”

There are more concerns.

As a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kerrey described Trump’s apparent disregard for U.S. intelligence assessments as “horrible,” and potentially alarming, and his lack of concern about Russian interference in U.S. elections as both puzzling and troubling.

“And this president tries to persuade us that the press is the enemy and that the courts should be responsible to the executive branch,” Kerrey said. “I think that is quite dangerous.”

Kerrey, Nebraska’s former Democratic U.S. senator and former governor, a former U.S. Navy Seal who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in combat in Vietnam, expressed his views after being asked to assess President Trump as he approaches the halfway mark of his four-year term.

Although there is both concern and criticism, it is not delivered in purely partisan terms.

“Nobody in politics is 100 percent truthful,” Kerrey said.

And Trump is “not the first” president to make political use of the military.

“I don’t believe Trump is a fascist, even though asserting that the courts should serve the president is consistent with fascist belief and dangerous,” Kerrey said. “I think it is born of ignorance.”

Kerrey gives the president credit for recruiting some qualified and capable people to his team, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

But as a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kerrey said, he is both puzzled and deeply concerned about the president’s disregard for U.S. intelligence assessments.

“I do not understand why he does not regard the effort by the Russians to interfere in our elections as a serious threat,” Kerrey said.

And Trump quickly dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist, he noted.

“The president says we will never know,” Kerrey said. “Well, there’s never been a rogue operation there. It’s a monarchy.”

U.S. intelligence agencies are “supposed to call it as they see it,” Kerrey said, but with this president “it doesn’t matter.”

When he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kerrey recalled, the congressional approach to U.S. intelligence was regarded as nonpartisan, and he hopes that standard can be restored.

Meanwhile, he said, the nonpartisan nature of the judiciary needs to be respected and protected.

“The president says nobody elected those people,” Kerrey said. “Nobody did; that was the whole idea.”

As for the Russian probe, Kerrey said, “I don’t think Congress will let him fire Mueller; and my hope is he won’t.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in U.S. elections might appear to be in some jeopardy following Trump’s replacement of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been an outspoken critic of the Mueller probe.

Looking ahead, Kerrey said the 2020 Democratic presidential field is going to be crowded and he hopes his party will choose someone who would “actually make the effort to bring the right and the left together.”

“Unifying this country is enormously important and it won’t be easy,” he said.

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