Brennan calls move an ‘abuse of power’
President Donald Trump abruptly revoked the security clearance of ex-CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday, an unprecedented act of retribution against a vocally critical former top U.S. official.
Trump also threatened to yank the clearances of a handful of individuals, including former top intelligence and law-enforcement officials, as well as a current member of the Justice Department. All are critics of the president or are people whom Trump appears to believe are against him.
Trump in a statement denounced Brennan’s criticism and spoke anxiously of “the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.” The president described his own action as fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information.”
However, Democratic members of Congress said it smacked of an “enemies list” among fellow Americans and the behavior of leaders in “dictatorships, not democracies.” Brennan, in a phone interview with MSNBC, called the move an “abuse of power by Mr. Trump.”
“I do believe that Mr. Trump decided to take this action, as he’s done with others, to try to intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration,” he said, adding that he would not be deterred from speaking out.
Trump’s action, critics and nonpartisan experts said, marked an unprecedented politicization of the federal government’s security clearance process. It also was a clear escalation in Trump’s battle with members of the U.S. intelligence community as the investigation into Russia election meddling and possible collusion and obstruction of justice continues.
And it came in the middle of the president’s latest controversy – accusations of racism by former adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman and his bitter reaction to them. Trump’s statement, distributed to reporters, was dated July 26, 2018, suggesting it could have been held and then released when needed to change a damaging subject. The White House later released a new version without the date.
Trump, his statement read by his press secretary, accused Brennan of having “leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television about this administration.”
“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nations’ most closely held secrets,” Trump said.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that he was prepared to yank Brennan’s clearance last week but that it was too “hectic.” The president was on an extended working vacation at his New Jersey golf club last week.
Brennan has indeed been deeply critical of Trump’s conduct, calling his performance at a press conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland “nothing short of treasonous.”
Brennan continued that criticism on Wednesday. “I’ve seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats for many, many years during my CIA and national security career. I never, ever thought that I would see it here in the United States,” he said.
Brennan said he had not heard from the CIA or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that his security clearance was being revoked, but learned it when the White House announced it. There is no requirement that a president has to notify top intelligence officials of his plan to revoke a security clearance. “The president has the ultimate authority to decide who holds a security clearance,” the ODNI said in a statement.
Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period, so they can be in a position to advise their successors and to hold certain jobs.
Trump’s statement said the Brennan issue raises larger questions about the practice of allowing former officials to maintain their security clearances, and said that others officials’ were under review.
They include former FBI Director James Comey; James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice; and Andrew McCabe, who served as Trump’s deputy FBI director until he was fired in March.
Also on the list: fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from the Russia investigation over anti-Trump text messages; former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom Strzok exchanged messages; and senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whom Trump recently accused on Twitter of “helping disgraced Christopher Steele ‘find dirt on Trump.”’
Ohr was friends with Steele, the former British intelligence officer commissioned by an American political research firm to explore Trump’s alleged ties with the Russian government. He is the only current government employee on the list.
At least two of the former officials, Comey and McCabe, do not currently have security clearances, and none of the eight receive intelligence briefings. Trump’s concern apparently is that their former status gives special weight to their statements, both to Americans and foreign foes.