John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Revokes Security Clearance for Critic and Obama Official John Brennan

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, accusing him of “erratic conduct and behavior.”

Brennan was a 25-year veteran of the intelligence agency before leading it under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017 and has been an outspoken critic of Trump.

On Tuesday, Brennan retweeted a Trump tweet attacking his former aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman and added his own commentary: “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.”

He also criticized Trump on MSNBC Tuesday evening, calling him “dangerous to our nation.”

Trump in a statement explaining his reasoning cited “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations – wild outbursts on the internet and television – about this Administration.”

“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the Nation’s most closely held secrets and facilitates the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos,” he added. The statement, released Wednesday, was dated July 26.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that Trump was retaliating for Brennan’s criticism.

“Not at all,” she said. “The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it.”

Brennan said on Twitter after Sanders’s announcement that Trump sought 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,” he said.

Trump consulted with Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief of staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats before taking the step, said a person familiar with the matter.

Under Review

Trump is reviewing clearances for additional Obama-era officials including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former Department of Justice official Lisa Page and current Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr, Sanders said.

Clapper said on CNN that Trump’s action was unprecedented and the White House is “making up the criterion as they go” for withdrawing clearances. Usually when security clearances are revoked, it is by the agencies that issued them, not the president personally, he added.

Revocations have no “immediate, substantive” impact, Clapper said. The threat of losing his clearance won’t stop him from speaking out against the administration, he said.

"If we’re saying the only way I can speak is to be in adulation mode of this president, I’m sorry,” he said.

Sanders first indicated that Trump was considering revoking the officials’ clearances in July, drawing criticism from some lawmakers in his own party. But Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has been an outspoken advocate for yanking Brennan’s clearance. Trump has been courting Paul’s vote for his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, whom the senator has said may not be sufficiently committed to privacy rights.

Brennan has also been targeted by Trump’s allies in conservative media. Fox News host Tucker Carlson on July 19 called Brennan an extremist with “a documented history of dishonesty” and said he shouldn’t have a clearance.

GOP Reaction

Some Republican senators criticized Trump for the action but others defended him.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said it seemed like “a banana republic” type of move absent any concrete evidence Brennan violated rules. Corker also said it reminded him of the kind of thing that happens in Venezuela.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that "as a recently retired CIA chief, John Brennan has been far too political in his comments."

"Nevertheless," she added, "unless there was some disclosure of classified information -- of which I’m unaware -- I don’t see the grounds for revoking his security clearance."

Collins, asked about the precedent of revoking Brennan’s clearance, said it’s "unwise" because recently retired officials can be helpful in intelligence analysis.

Other Republican senators said they supported the president’s decision, among them Idaho’s Jim Risch and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who remarked that he was surprised Trump didn’t act sooner.

Trump came under withering criticism from Obama’s former aides. Former Vice President Joe Biden called revoking Brennan’s clearance “unbecoming of a President” on Twitter.

Eric Rosenbach, the co-director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, who was Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s chief of staff from 2015 to 2017, called the move “unprecedented.”

“The fact that the president of the United States would revoke the security clearance of a former senior national security official only because he would say something against the president is dangerous for the country,” Rosenbach said in an interview. “It’s an obvious attempt to silence critics on topics where it’s important to have informed decisions.”

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