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Albright And Other Former Diplomats Urge Court To Reject Travel Ban

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in California later today there will be an important test of President Donald Trump's executive authority. A panel of three federal judges will address the legality of Trump's immigration travel ban. Justice Department lawyers will ask the judges to lift a temporary block on the president's order. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Air Force One yesterday the legal case is clear to him.

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SEAN SPICER: The law is very clear on this. The president has huge discretion to protect the safety of the American people in our nation's institutions with respect to who can come into this country.

GREENE: Among those who disagree with the White House are 10 former senior diplomatic and national security officials. And one of them is on the line with us, it is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Madam Secretary, good morning.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good morning to you.

GREENE: So is Sean Spicer right? Does a president have a lot of latitude to do what he or she thinks is right to protect American citizens?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think that from all the things that one reads about the president's power, yes. But it has to be done in a way where, in fact, it is based on knowledge and information about what this does for national security. And from everything that I have seen, the process was not done in a way that, in fact, got experts to agree on it, where any kind of operational work through how decisions are made on national security - any of that was done. So I think that that part is very important in terms of what knowledge and information was the decision made on.

Was it even coordinated within the system? And does it do anything for national security? And the bottom line, really, is on this declaration that those of us that have been involved in national security made, it actually hurts us. And so I think that whatever authority the president has was not based on any facts.

GREENE: But we should say, I mean, the Trump White House has said they, you know, even, I mean, a good while before putting this order into place, they were consulting with experts. They were consulting with the State Department. You're not convinced that enough was done by them?

ALBRIGHT: No, I definitely am not convinced. And I think the way every part of this in terms of how unprepared they were and the rollout itself was just totally amateurish. And then, in fact, that they never looked at the unintended consequences and that it was based on facts that simply - they made up their facts because the countries that were singled out, there's nobody that from those countries has been involved in an attack in the United States. So I just - I find it really so badly organized and so badly based that it's very hard for those of us that have any understanding of national security to be supportive of this.

It hurts and undermines the national security of the United States rather than making us safer.

GREENE: In what way does it do that?

ALBRIGHT: Well, by, I think, in the following ways - and there are a number of ways that we talk about in this declaration - is that it endangers our troops in the field because that has made it much more difficult for them to operate and to have people to work with. It also disrupts our counterterrorism and national security partnerships because countries do not wish to cooperate with us. And then it really helps ISIL's propaganda effort and really serves as a recruitment message.

And so, frankly, the part, for me, that is so difficult to absorb is that not only does it not help our national security, it actually makes us less safe. And that is the point that those of us that have been involved in these issues for years, that's on the basis of that that we wrote our declaration.

GREENE: Just to be clear, I mean, talking about the things you're talking about, those sound like policy arguments. You are not saying, I mean, you're saying this order is dangerous. You're not saying it's illegal.

ALBRIGHT: Well, none of us are - most of us are not lawyers. I do think that in reading about the president's power on immigration, yes, it's a very broad power. But also we have a system of checks and balances. Congress has to look at this. But we are making an argument based on policy and that it will harm the interest of the United States. And I think that that is a very important part since, theoretically, this was put out in order to protect America and for national security purposes. So if it's doing the opposite, then I hope that the legal system takes that all into consideration.

GREENE: Well, should they? I guess I wonder if these judges in California should take your arguments into account if they are based on policy and not based on the law and legal grounds?

ALBRIGHT: Well, as I said, I'm not a lawyer. But I certainly hope they would. And also in terms of the values of the United States because, in fact, this has really - on humanitarian grounds is kind of really disgusting in terms of what it's done to a lot of people. And based on our values and non-discrimination against religious groups, I would hope that the judges would take that into consideration.

GREENE: Madam Secretary, President Trump has said his policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011. Obama stopped processing visas for people from Iraq because of security concerns. We should say, many, including the website PolitiFact, have said these are not comparable situations in all ways. But still, looking back, was President Obama's action dangerous in some of the same ways you're talking about?

ALBRIGHT: No, I mean, that was really done in order to really make it possible to vet better or because there were so many people coming in. And it was done, I think, in a way that was more carefully crafted. And to put this on President Obama is just not understanding what he did and then expanding what the plan was. In fact, what this summary - what this executive order does is suspends entry, it just suspends refugee admissions, it reduces worldwide refugee admissions. It does all kinds of things that go way beyond anything that was in President Obama's view.

GREENE: OK, Secretary Albright, thank you so much for joining us. As always, we really appreciate it.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Thanks for talking about it.

GREENE: Madeleine Albright was the secretary of state in President Bill Clinton's administration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.