WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders began her briefing on Wednesday by reading a statement from President Trump announcing his decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, a prominent critic of the current administration. The statement went on to list other current and former officials whose clearances would be under review.
Brennan served as CIA director from 2013 until Trump took office last year. In the statement, Trump said he made the decision because of his “unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information.”
In a written statement released Wednesday afternoon by the White House, Trump accused Brennan of engaging in “erratic conduct and behavior” that eliminated his value as a potential counselor to current officials and “far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.”
The president cited two examples of alleged improper behavior by Brennan, including 2014 congressional testimony in which the then CIA director claimed the agency had not spied on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who were preparing a report on the agency’s interrogation techniques. The inspector general concluded it had, in fact, spied on the staffers.
Trump also accused Brennan of lying when he said that the so-called Steele dossier was “not in any way used as the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment” that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election in an effort to boost Trump’s chances of winning.
Trump has vehemently denied the allegations in the dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy and alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin had tendrils in Trump’s campaign and possessed compromising material that could be used to hold sway over the U.S. president.
In addition to accusing Brennan of lying, Trump’s statement suggested the former CIA director’s recent critiques of the White House were improper.
“Mr. Brennan has recently 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,” Trump wrote.
Brennan, like many former intelligence agency officials, regularly appears on cable news, where he has emerged as a prominent Trump critic. The ex-CIA director has also expressed concerns about the Trump administration through a Twitter account that he set up last September. Brennan’s most recent post on the site came Wednesday night when he sent a message attacking Trump for calling former White House staffer 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,” Brennan wrote.
After announcing the decision to revoke Brennan’s clearance, Trump’s statement declared he would be “evaluating action” against nine other current and former officials. Those on the list were former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; ex-FBI Director James Comey; Michael Hayden, who led both the NSA and CIA; erstwhile deputy Attorney General Sally Yates; President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice; ex-deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe; recently fired FBI agent Peter Strzok; Lisa Page, an FBI attorney; and Bruce Ohr, a member of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces.
Ohr was the lone current official cited by the president.
All of those on Trump’s list have publicly criticized the White House or been linked in some way to investigations of the president. Several of the people named by Trump are also potential witnesses in the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey last year.
Maintaining security clearances is important to former officials as it can help them secure future employment.
At the press briefing, Sanders dismissed the notion Trump was focusing on his political rivals. She insisted Trump would also be willing to consider stripping clearances from officials who support him if they act improperly.
“If we deemed it necessary, we would certainly look into that,” Sanders said.
Following Sanders’s briefing, the White House sent out a written version of Trump’s statement that was dated July 26. The White House subsequently sent out a corrected undated version. This discrepancy led to some speculation the announcement was timed for political purposes. Asked about this, a White House official simply said the revocation of Brennan’s clearance was dated today.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment about who initiated the clearance review and whether security professionals were involved in the decision making. CNN reported that current Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was not consulted about the decision. Speaking on the channel, Clapper, the ex-director, described that as “unprecedented.”
“I don’t know of … a case where this has ever been done in the past,” Clapper said. “Access to clearances normally would be done completely by a sponsoring agency.”
Brennan took to his Twitter page to describe the move as “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,” Brennan said.
Hayden, the former CIA and NSA director, similarly cast the move as an attempt to stifle criticism in an appearance on CNN in which he said Sanders announced the decision “almost in a tone to be threatening to the rest of us.”
In an email, Hayden said revocation of his clearance would have a “marginal impact on the work I do.”
He cited, as an example of a possible effect, board work he did ensuring an American subsidiary of an Irish company respected U.S. rules on classified information.
“If my memory is correct, I visited the agency once to get a background briefing on Africa about nine years ago,” he added. “All my other visits were either to attend a ceremony, at the request of the agency, or to research my book (every word of which had to be cleared by the CIA and NSA).”
Hayden concluded by declaring that the potential of losing his clearance would have no effect on his public statements.
“With regard to the implied threat today that I could lose my clearance, that will have no impact on what I think, say or write,” Hayden wrote.
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