President Trump on Wednesday personally revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan, a bitter and vocal Trump critic, citing his “erratic conduct and behavior” as their clashes escalated over the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
It was the first move in a White House review of access of top Obama-era intelligence and law enforcement officials, and it is believed to be the first time a president has taken such a direct and public role in shutting off a security clearance.
“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,” Mr. Trump said.
Among Mr. Brennan’s transgressions, the president said, was telling Congress that the intelligence community did not use the anti-Trump Steele dossier in an assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, an assertion that Mr. Trump said is “contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts.”
Mr. Brennan responded 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. … My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.”
The president’s move reflected a new level of open warfare with Mr. Brennan, whom Mr. Trump and his inner circle are increasingly blaming for initiating the special counsel’s investigation into suspected collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow in 2016. Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani called Mr. Brennan “the quarterback” of the special counsel’s investigation Tuesday night.
“The guy running it is Brennan,” he told Fox News Channel talk show host Sean Hannity. “And he should be in front of a grand jury.”
The president said he is considering revoking security clearances of other former and current government officials, all Democrats who have clashed with him in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. They are former FBI Director James B. Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, his paramour, former FBI general counsel Lisa Page, former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice.
Associates of Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe say they lost their security clearances when they were fired, as did Mr. Strzok. Mr. Hayden said last month that he no longer attends classified briefings and the loss of his clearance wouldn’t affect his public comments.
Most government officials lose their physical access to classified documents when they leave their posts, but they retain their eligibility to review such information for several years. The practice is used partly so current government officials can sound out their predecessors about sensitive matters, including national security.
Bush White House chief information officer Theresa Payton, now CEO of a security consulting firm, said Mr. Trump has the authority to revoke clearances. But she said the move could be shortsighted because few former officials have high-level knowledge of the cyberthreats facing the U.S.
“It is the president’s prerogative — maintaining or having your clearance renewed is not a right,” she said in an interview. “But we’re under attack, we’re under assault from nation-states, from cybercriminals. It’s a very small club of individuals who have served on the front lines of the cyberwarfare we’re experiencing. Why not take advantage of that institutional knowledge?”
Mr. Brennan, who led the CIA under President Obama, has been a fierce critic on TV and on Twitter of Mr. Trump’s actions toward Russia, accusing him of lying and engaging in “treasonous” behavior. After Mr. Trump’s summit last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, Mr. Brennan blasted the president for failing to confront the Russian leader publicly about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The former spy chief this week publicly supported former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who has published a book accusing Mr. Trump of racism and mental impairment, sparking an increasingly hostile feud with the president.
Mr. Brennan tweeted at the president Tuesday night, “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.”
The first statement released by the White House was dated July 26, leading critics to charge that the White House revoked Mr. Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday to try to shift the media’s focus away from Ms. Manigault Newman’s accusations about Mr. Trump.
“This might be a convenient way to distract attention, say, from a damaging news story or two,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “But politicizing the way we guard our nation’s secrets just to punish the president’s critics is a dangerous precedent.”
On Twitter, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called it “a stunning abuse of power & a pathetic attempt to silence critics.” She called Mr. Brennan “an honorable patriot.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the president was adding Mr. Brennan to his enemies list, calling Mr. Trump “deeply insecure and vindictive.”
“I filibustered Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in 2013, and his behavior in government and out of it demonstrate why he should not be allowed near classified information,” Mr. Paul said. “He 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.”
“Not at all,” she said. “The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Mr. Trump later told the Wall Street Journal that he would consider revoking security clearances for Republican officials, too, “if I thought they were incompetent or crazy.”
The president said Mr. Brennan’s security clearance “raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets long after their time in government has ended.”
“Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks. Any access granted to our nation’s secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal, interests,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Brennan, a confidant of Mr. Obama’s, initially provided the information for the FBI to start the Russia counterintelligence investigation in summer 2016. He told the House intelligence committee in May 2017 that the intelligence community was picking up pieces of information about Trump associates making contacts with Russians.
He also served on Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and in his White House.
Mr. Brennan told NPR last spring that he is a nonpartisan who is speaking his mind about Mr. Trump. He said his civilian status gives him the right to suggest that Mr. Putin has blackmail material on the president.
“I’m not going to get into what I may have known or not known while I was the CIA director,” he said. “I just am looking at his performance since he has become president of the United States, and the — in some respects — fawning attitude toward Vladimir Putin while he speaks with such denigration about his fellow Americans.”
In light of Mr. Brennan’s behavior, Mr. Trump said in his statement, neither the tradition of former officials consulting with their successors nor professional courtesy “supports Mr. Brennan’s continued access to classified information.”
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