WASHINGTON — Former top national security officials on President Trump’s security clearance target list said they wouldn’t be threatened into silence, while one GOP senator praised the revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance because he’s a “butthead.”
Brennan said he was not notified by the administration of Trump’s move and learned about it from a friend who saw White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announce it on television. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the CIA were also reportedly caught off guard by the news.
Former top intelligence and national security officials retain clearances in case an instance arises in which they’re called to consult with their successors in a classified setting. Trump said in a statement that “at this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.”
The lengthy statement proceeded to criticize Brennan for “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.” On Tuesday, Brennan tweeted at Trump in response to the president’s tweet calling Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog”: “It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation.”
Sanders said Trump is also reviewing the clearances of other critics: FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page — though Comey, McCabe, Strzok and Page no longer have clearances to revoke, per exit procedures at the FBI. Also on the list is Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official who was a contact for former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Brennan told MSNBC that “if Mr. Trump believes that this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken.” The former CIA chief said the move was designed “to intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration.”
“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,” Brennan added. “I never, ever thought that I would see it here in the United States.”
Brennan added on Twitter, “This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.”
Hayden told CNN that the way Sanders “rolled this out was almost in a tone to be threatening to the rest of us.”
“I certainly try to be respectful for both the office and the person of the president. But you know, you’ve got to tell the truth and if something’s not right or not true, you’ve got to point that out,” he added. “And that implied threat isn’t going to change what I think, say or write.”
Clapper said he saw “an infringement of First Amendment rights — and I think people ought to think seriously about that.” Clapper said he has been called on by some senior officials in the Trump administration to discuss issues since leaving government, but he wouldn’t name names.
Comey tweeted that in a democracy “security clearances should not be used as pawns in a petty political game to distract voters from even bigger problems.”
“American voters must not shrug off or be distracted from the terrible behaviors of his president, who lies to the American people every day, encourages racism, is a misogynist, and always puts his own interests above those of the United State of America,” he wrote. “Politicians enabling this president should be held accountable in future elections. We are each responsible for what we way as well as for our silence.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted that what Trump did was “likely an illegal use of presidential power,” while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who originally pushed Trump to revoke Brennan’s clearance last month, declared that the former CIA director “participated in a shredding of constitutional rights, lied to Congress, and has been monetizing and making partisan political use of his clearance since his departure.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who brushed off Trump’s July threat as trolling, has not commented. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, “I don’t like it at all. It feels very much like a banana republic kind of thing… it feels very vindictive.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), though, said Brennan has “been totally political” since leaving the government.
“I think I called him a ‘butthead’ and I meant it. I think he’s given the national intelligence community a bad name,” Kennedy told CNN.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called Trump’s decision “unwise because generally recently retired national security officials have a lot to contribute.”