WASHINGTON — A dozen former intelligence officials — including six former CIA directors — signed a statement declaring that President Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan “and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”
Trump’s statement Wednesday, which was delivered by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said 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.”
Sanders added that Trump would review the security clearances of other critics: former 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; the FBI veterans no longer have clearances per Bureau exit procedures. 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.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday night, Trump called the move against Brennan “something that had to be done” because officials on the list “led” the “rigged witch hunt” Russia investigation. “I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Trump said. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”
Trump did not answer questions about Brennan from reporters during a cabinet meeting today.
“As former senior intelligence officials, we feel compelled to respond in the wake of the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances. We know John to be an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation,” said tonight’s statement, signed by former CIA directors William Webster, George Tenet, Porter Goss, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and Hayden, along with Clapper and former deputy CIA directors John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, Mike Morell, Avirl Haines, and David Cohen.
“Insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless. Since leaving government service John has chosen to speak out sharply regarding what he sees as threats to our national security,” they wrote. “Some of the undersigned have done so as well. Others among us have elected to take a different course and be more circumspect in our public pronouncements.”
Declaring that Trump’s move was intended to stifle free speech, the officials noted that “you don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information.”
“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” they added. “Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials. As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech – even when that right has been used to criticize us – that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”