Interviews

Woolsey: Retaliation against Russia shouldn't be public

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," December 29, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

TRISH REGAN, GUEST HOST: All right, you're looking here at a live picture of the Russian Embassy, as the Obama administration slaps new sanctions on Russia over claims Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey joins me right now.

Ambassador Woolsey, it's good to see you.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Trish.

REGAN: You know, 35 Russian diplomats are being expelled from the country.  This is a pretty display, I would say, of the administration's dissatisfaction with Russia, their concern about Russia.

Are you surprised at all?

WOOLSEY: I was a bit.

I think maybe it's my intelligence background, but I think things like this are best done quietly, not weakly, but quietly. I think Teddy Roosevelt had it right, speak softly and carry a big stick.

And I would not have advised making this a big public show. But the retaliation itself, yes, we had to do something when something like that is done to us.

I do get concerned that the Russians might escalate it up to going after electricity grids and so forth, the way they have against Ukraine and others. And -- but we can't just sit here quietly and not do anything if something like this happens to us.

REGAN: But the fact that it was and is such a big public show, that surprises you. You wouldn't have done it this way.

Is there a political motive at all from the Obama administration in terms of making this very much a show?

WOOLSEY: Well, one has to suspect that that might be the case.

Also, just basic human decency things dealing with international affairs aren't taking place coming out of the White House. For example, some 90- plus people in the Red Army Choir, which is one of the institutions that Russia is proudest of, some 50 people were killed in the Black Sea.

And one would think some kind of expression of condolences. It would be as if a famous American orchestra or choir had 90 people killed. We expect other countries to send something to us and say, we're really sorry to hear about this, et cetera. Simple decent things like that aren't taking place.

REGAN: Donald Trump was asked about the hacking just yesterday and he said, look, it's time to move on.

Is he saying that and doing something different, I mean, to your point, about not being so public about this stuff, or there is something to that, in that we need to, to a certain extent, move on?

WOOLSEY: Well, I don't mind having tough responses.

I think, if we haven't done enough with what we have done, they may need to do some more. But I have negotiated on four treaties with the Russians.  And one of them, I was the chief negotiator. And they can be very nasty and they can also be very friendly and easy to work with. It depends a lot on the circumstances and whether they're being blocked in things that sometimes they're trying to do, such as gain control of your position.

And so I think sometimes the best thing to do is to respond strongly, but not talk about it. And that doesn't seem to be on the horizon as an option.

REGAN: Can you not talk about closing facilities in New York and Maryland and shipping 35 diplomats out of the country? Isn't that going to leak out somewhere?

WOOLSEY: Sure. That's -- but that public, and it's designed to be public.  No, I'm talking about something that would be really effective, such as a cyber-attack against them of some sort.

REGAN: Ah, in other words, retaliate in kind.

WOOLSEY: That's one possibility.

There are others. But I think...

REGAN: In other words, two can play this game. I hear you.

WOOLSEY: Yes. That's right.

REGAN: And there are ways to go about this that might be more powerful, that might be more effective, that might show them that we're willing to engage at that level as well, rather than sort of the dog and pony show.

WOOLSEY: Yes.

REGAN: Let me just ask you, if 35 officials get expelled, what happens if they don't leave the country in the next 72 hours? What do we do then?

WOOLSEY: Oh, they will. They...

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: But they'd then be under arrest or something.

WOOLSEY: They don't want to get rounded up by the FBI or something.

Ronald Reagan really had a lot of this right, trust, but verify. We want to project publicly we can work with you. We want to...

REGAN: And this is not doing that, by the way.

WOOLSEY: I think that's right. But in the back door -- or out our back door, we want to do something to them that really gets their attention, I think.

REGAN: All right. Good advice from James Woolsey.

Thank you so much. Good to see you again.

Good to be with you, Trish.

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