Ex-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: Trump should not avoid intelligence briefings

Donald Trump should not discount the value of presidential intelligence briefings even though agencies should be held accountable for the information they provide, former Obama Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told CNBC on Monday.

“That’s obviously up to President-elect Trump, but I think he would be well-served if he would take those briefings, because there’s never enough time to know as much as you need to know in any of these jobs,” Hagel told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Hagel, who headed the Pentagon during President Barack Obama’s second term and earlier served on the Senate intelligence and foreign relations committees, said he understands Trump’s wariness of agency reports.

“I understand that President-elect Trump has questions about the veracity, about the depth, the quality of the report,” Hagel said. “I think those need to be asked in any government agency, including our intelligence agencies.”

Hagel said that recent developments in a CIA investigation that cited Russia’s involvement in swaying election results in Trump’s favor should be taken with a grain of salt.

“That may be right, that may not be right,” Hagel said. “I don’t think it’s just the Russians we need to be focused on here. … There are other countries with tremendous capability and cyber is a tricky business.”

Hagel said that China, Iran, North Korea and nongovernment entities like ISIS also have the capability and potential to attack the United States, and that intelligence agencies must remain careful and judicious in their inquiries.

The former Defense secretary said that Trump’s rumored Secretary of state appointment Rex Tillerson, who reportedly has ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, could be a positive for the incoming administration.

Hagel said that he was not sure that there was much truth to reports of Tillerson and Putin being friends.

“Obviously he’s done business and does business with Putin in Russia. I don’t see that as a downside,” Hagel said.

“I believe Mr. Tillerson is smart enough to understand that … the objective and responsibility for the secretary of State, like any Cabinet member, is the interest of the United States,” the former secretary added.

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