Gates: ‘Perfectly Reasonable and Totally Legitimate' to Improve Vetting, But…

Susan Jones | January 30, 2017 | 6:13am EST
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Robert Gates served as defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; before that, he was CIA director under President George H.W. Bush. (AP File Photo)

( – Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates says any effort to strengthen national security or improve the vetting process is “perfectly reasonable and totally legitimate.”

“In fact, we would expect that of the president,” Gates told ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think the key is doing it in a way that doesn't risk creating more enemies than threats it deters. And that's the balance that has to be weighed.”

Gates said he hadn’t read the executive order, and he said immigration and refugee policy was not something he dealt with during his time in government.

Gates said at a minimum, the way the policy was implemented has caused confusion and hard feelings, at home and abroad. And he said he’s spoken with former military leaders, who are not happy about the executive order:

 “I know that former senior commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are very concerned about this order and what it -- the impact it will have on those that helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan, the interpreters, translators and so on, who were promised safe haven in the United States and now may not get it.

“I spoke as recently as last night with General Petraeus and he and others, like General Chiarelli, are very concerned about this.

“So I think one thing the administration ought to do is clarify this as quickly as possible.”

Urged by guest host Martha Raddatz to repeat his earlier criticism of Donald Trump, Gates demurred:

“Well, my view is that it is very important for us, now that Mr. Trump is president, for us to be successful and for him to be successful in national security policy.”

Gates said he believes that Trump’s Cabinet picks – Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson – “will bring to the president extraordinarily good advice and in a very realistic appreciation of the world. And I give the president credit for being willing to appoint strong, independent-minded individuals to advise him on these matters.”

Gates also said that every administration he’s worked for “begins with a flurry of executive orders,” either overturning or amplifying what their predecessors did.

“So let's just give him (Trump) a little time. But I do worry about the impact of this executive order in terms of the way it's received around the world,” he added.

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