Leon Panetta, who served as the director of the CIA, chief of staff, and defense secretary under nine different presidents, says that he believes President Donald Trump has “essentially gone AWOL” during a time when the country needs his leadership most.
Panetta appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 where he discussed the current president and the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about Trump’s statement that he believes the novel coronavirus will eventually “just disappear” on its own, something that the president has repeated as recently as this week, and how previous administration’s would have handled the crisis, Panetta responded that things would have looked very different under the watch of previous leaders.
“This president has essentially gone AWOL from the job of leadership that he should be providing a country in trouble. This is a major crisis. We’re looking at 41,000 new cases today,” Panetta said.
“Rather than bringing together some kind of national strategy to confront this crisis simply resorts to tweeting about vandalism and other things to divert attention from the crisis that’s there. He’s not good at crisis, very frankly. He doesn’t like to deal with things he cannot solve easily.”
“That’s a dereliction of duty,” he added.
When asked if he recalled a time when there has been a lack of unified leadership against a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Panetta conceded that he’s never seen a situation like this in his lifetime. Every president, he says, has been willing to respond to a crisis, whether they do so in an effective way or not. Trump, he says, has chosen the route of not responding, not only to the pandemic but also to U.S. economic problems and the Black Lives Matter protests.
Trump isn’t willing to stand up and lead the country when it needs him, Panetta said.
“I have never experienced a president who has avoided that responsibility,” he concluded.
So far, over 2.6 million Americans have been confirmed to be infected with the virus, and 128,000 have died so far. In recent days, the country has seen its highest number of new cases, with 50,000 new cases for the first time on Wednesday.
Trump has largely avoided speaking about the coronavirus in recent days, instead focusing on his rival in the upcoming election, former Vice President Joe Biden, the latest revelations about Russia putting bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers, and statues toppled by protesters.
The White House has pushed back on people who have asked why the president doesn’t speak often about the pandemic, saying that he is focused on action rather than talking.