President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan in part because of his role in the investigation into allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump placed blame on Brennan for the ongoing Russia investigation, now overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller, even though Brennan has been outside the government for 19 months.
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“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Trump told the Journal. “And these people led it!”
“So I think it’s something that had to be done,” he continued.
Brennan, who served as the CIA director under former President Barack Obama, was among the intelligence officials who met with the president at Trump Tower in the days leading up to his inauguration. Brennan and the other intelligence officials briefed Trump on evidence that the Russian government had sought to interfere in the 2016 election.
The former CIA director, who spent 25 years with the agency and also served as Obama’s homeland security adviser and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center under former President George W. Bush, left government service on Jan. 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Brennan blasted the move as a “politically motivated” attempt to silence those who disagree with the president in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday.
“Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him,” Brennan wrote. “Which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.”
In addition to revoking Brennan’s security clearance, the White House also announced Wednesday that it would review the clearances of former officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and others. Officials with security clearances are typically allowed to keep them when they leave government service, both as a professional courtesy and so that they can offer advice and guidance as needed to government agencies.
Trump has long complained about the Mueller probe, referring to it almost always as a “witch hunt” — even though it has resulted in numerous indictments of Russian nationals and former Trump campaign officials. The investigation, the president has insisted, amounts to little more than an attempt at an excuse from Democrats embarrassed by Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election.
The revocation of Brennan’s security clearance was first announced Wednesday by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who did not mention the Russia probe among her justifications for the president’s decision.
Brennan has been among the most vocal critics of the president since leaving government service, prompting the White House to accuse him, via a statement from the president, of leveraging “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.”
Stripped of his security clearance, Brennan weighed in on the Russia investigation on Thursday, calling denials of Russian collusion and meddling “hogwash.” Then-candidate Trump further muddied the waters in July 2016, Brennan wrote, when he effectively encouraged a U.S. global adversary to collect foreign intelligence on an American by encouraging hackers to find his opponent Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
Moving forward, Brennan said the questions that need answers in the Russia investigation are whether alleged collusion meets the threshold of “criminally liable conspiracy” and whether obstruction of justice was used to cover up the collusion.
The president’s concession that the Russia probe played a role in his decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance bears similarities to the firing of Comey, a decision the White House initially said was made based on the recommendation of deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein but which Trump later said was made with the Russia investigation, then overseen by the bureau, weighing on his mind.
That acknowledgment — that Comey’s firing was motivated by Trump’s frustration with the Russia probe — has prompted allegations of obstruction of justice that are believed to be under investigation by Mueller.
Some Republican lawmakers expressed concern about the precedent Trump’s decision to pull Brennan’s security clearance could set. Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized Brennan as “too political” but said Trump’s decision was “unwise.”
“Without having some kind of tangible reasons for doing so, which there may be that I’m not aware of, I don’t like it at all. It just feels like sort of a … banana republic kind of thing,” said Sen. Bob Corker, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.
Alternately, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), said Trump’s action against Brennan was “entirely appropriate.” Cornyn is also member of the Intelligence Committee.
On the other side of the aisle, former Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Corker’s “banana republic” line, saying in a tweet the president put “personal petty politics ahead of patriotism and national security.”