President Trump derided retired admiral William H. McRaven as a ‘‘Hillary Clinton fan’’ and an ‘‘Obama backer’’ and suggested that the former head of US Special Operations Command should have apprehended Osama bin Laden faster.
The comments, which the president made in an interview with Chris Wallace on ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ represent the latest point of tension between Trump and a group of retired general officers who have criticized the commander-in-chief publicly for his handling of national security and military matters.
McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL, oversaw the 2011 operation that killed bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After Trump revoked former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance in the summer, McRaven wrote an article in The Washington Post defending Brennan as a man of unparalleled integrity and asked the president to revoke his clearance, as well, in solidarity. McRaven also criticized Trump more broadly.
‘‘Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs,’’ McRaven wrote. ‘‘A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.’’
‘‘Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities,’’ McRaven added. ‘‘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.’’
The commentary amounted to a rare public rebuke by a former flag officer, most of whom tend to stay quiet on political matters after retiring, and escalated calls for McRaven to run for public office.
On Sunday, about three months later, Trump fired back at the retired admiral when Wallace brought him up in the interview.
‘‘Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of US Special Operations, 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, as Trump interrupted him to call the former top commander a ‘‘Hillary Clinton fan.’’
Trump then accused McRaven of not finding bin Laden fast enough.
‘‘Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?’’ the president said. ‘‘You know, living — think of this — living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan, in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.’’
McRaven didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Governor calls for resignation of official who made ‘master race’ comment to black consultant
Add the Kansas governor to the list of people who believe that Louis Klemp’s Nazi-tinged ‘‘master race’’ comments to a black city planner were line-crossingly racist, not a bizarre, orthodontically-themed joke that somehow landed wrong.
The comment in question was made at a county commissioners meeting on Tuesday in Leavenworth, just outside Kansas City. Klemp apparently had taken issue with a development project presented by a planning consultant, who also happened to be the only black person in the video frame.
‘‘I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you because we’re part of the master race. You know you got a gap in your teeth, you’re the masters. Don’t ever forget that,’’ Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp, who is white, told Triveece Penelton.
Since that meeting, several city and county officials have called for Klemp to resign.
And Saturday, Governor Jeff Colyer joined the chorus.
‘‘Racial and discriminative language have no place in our society, and most especially when spoken by someone holding a public office,’’ Colyer said in a statement.
Leavenworth Mayor Mark Preisinger called a special meeting during which he denounced Klemp’s comments and urged him to apologize to the county planner.
‘‘It just violated common decency . . . It’s time for him to resign,’’ Preisinger said. ‘‘He’s been an embarrassment to the county, which reflects on the city and reflects on everyone.’’
For his part, Klemp has not publicly defended his comments.
Klemp could not be reached for comment Sunday. He declined on Wednesday to speak to a television reporter who knocked on his door, but he implied off-camera that his comment was a joke, NBC affiliate KSHB reported.
Trump pondering Kelly’s status, 3-5 Cabinet changes
President Trump isn’t committing to a previous pledge to keep chief of staff John Kelly for the remainder of his term, part of widespread speculation about staffing changes that could soon sweep through his administration.
Trump, in the interview on ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ praised Kelly’s work ethic and much of what he brings to the position but added, ‘‘There are certain things that I don’t like that he does.’’
‘‘There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault. It’s not his strength,’’ said Trump, who added that Kelly himself might want to depart.
Asked whether he would keep Kelly in his post through 2020, the president offered only that ‘‘it could happen.’’ Trump had earlier pledged publicly that Kelly would remain through his first term in office, though many in the West Wing were skeptical.
Trump said he was happy with his Cabinet but was thinking about changing ‘‘three or four or five positions.’’ One of them is Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen, whose departure is now considered inevitable. Trump said in the interview that he could keep her on, but he made clear that he wished she would be tougher in implementing his hard-line immigration policies and enforcing border security.
Trump also discussed the removal of Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser who is being moved to another position in the administration after clashes with the East Wing culminated in an extraordinary statement from first lady Melania Trump that called for her removal. The president said Ricardel was ‘‘not too diplomatic, but she’s talented’’ and downplayed the idea that his wife was calling the shots in the White House.
The first lady’s team “wanted to go a little bit public because that’s the way they felt and I thought it was fine,’’ Trump said.
He also dismissed a series of reports that he had been fuming in the week after the Democrats captured the House, claiming instead that the mood of the West Wing was ‘‘very light.’’