Trump's White House Operates Like the Mafia, Says Leon Panetta

Leon Panetta compared President Donald Trump's White House to the mafia and said nobody at the top of the administration is willing to tell its leader when he is making the wrong decisions.

Panetta was defense secretary and CIA director in the Obama administration and former President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff before that. He was also director of the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton and served for 16 years in Congress.

"It looks more like... how the mafia operates in terms of having one central individual and a lot of other people basically catering to that individual," Panetta told MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday's edition of Hardball.

"That's the fundamental problem in the White House right now. There are no grown-ups in the White House to tell this president when he's going to do the wrong thing.

"The only kind of people you have around the president now are people who basically empower the president. They do what he wants them to do. There isn't anybody who is willing to stand up and tell him when he's doing the wrong thing."

Panetta continued that the result is the president is "basically operating on his own, operating through tweets, through gut reactions, and producing the kind of sense that we have in this country that we literally do not have a president of the United States who's paying attention to the problems facing this country both here and abroad."

The Trump administration has experienced a high turnover of senior officials. Some have left on bad terms with the president, such as former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Those left in the cabinet and as White House advisers are among Trump's most loyal supporters. But some of them are now tangled in the House case to impeach the president over his alleged misconduct in Ukraine.

Evidence uncovered so far suggests that a number of key officials were involved in what the president's critics say was a scheme to bribe and extort Ukraine to open spurious corruption investigations into Trump's political rivals, benefiting his 2020 election campaign.

Trump wanted Ukraine to announce corruption investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate, and the Democratic Party. He allegedly conditioned military aid and a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Ukraine opening the probes.

Among the Trump officials caught up are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Attorney General Bill Barr.

Outside of the administration, the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was allegedly doing his bidding in Ukraine, trying to dig up dirt and support the effort to secure the opening of the investigations. All those involved deny any wrongdoing.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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US President Donald Trump looks on during a working lunch at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on December 4, 2019. Trump runs the White House like it's the mafia, former defense secretary Leon Panetta said. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images