Donald Trump

Ex-CIA head John Brennan says Donald Trump colluded with Russia and is now desperate to hide the truth

Brennan responds to White House move by writing a column contending Trump is trying ‘to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 4:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 5:24am

Former CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday that US President Donald Trump has revoked his security clearance because the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to sway the 2016 election and the president is now desperate to end the special counsel’s investigation.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Brennan wrote that Trump’s claims of no collusion with Russia are “hogwash” and that the only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “criminally liable conspiracy”.

Donald Trump yanks ex-CIA chief John Brennan’s security clearance

“Mr Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, 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,” he said.

Brennan cited news reports and Trump’s own urging of Russia during the campaign to find the missing emails of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Trump himself drew a direct connection between the revocation of Brennan’s clearance and the Russia probe, telling The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the investigation is a “sham,” and “these people led it!” He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

It was a swift departure from the official explanation given by the White House on Wednesday, which cited “the risks” posed by what Trump labelled Brennan’s “erratic conduct and behaviour”. The president said he was fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information”.

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Brennan’s loss of a security clearance was an unprecedented act of retribution against a vocal critic and politicises the federal government’s security clearance process.

Former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period, so they can be in a position to advise their successors and to hold certain jobs.

There was no reference to the Russia probe in a White House statement that was read at a press briefing on Wednesday and sent out to reporters.

In the statement, Trump denounced Brennan’s criticism and accused Brennan of having “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. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterised by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets,” Trump said.

In the Journal interview, Trump said he was prepared to yank Brennan’s clearance last week, but that it was too “hectic”. The president, who was on an extended working vacation at his New Jersey golf club last week, has been under fire over accusations of racism by his former adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman and his bitter reaction to them.

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Trump’s statement, distributed to reporters, was dated July 26, 2018, suggesting it could have been held and then released when needed to change a damaging subject.

Brennan has been deeply critical of Trump’s conduct, calling his performance at a news conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland “nothing short of treasonous”. He said on Wednesday that he had only learned that his security clearance was being revoked when the White House announced it.

Trump’s statement said the Brennan issue raises larger questions about the practice of allowing former officials to maintain their security clearances, and said that those of other officials were under review.

They include former FBI Director James Comey; James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice; and Andrew McCabe, who served as Trump’s deputy FBI director until he was fired in March.

Also on the list: fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from the Russia investigation over anti-Trump text messages; former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom Strzok exchanged messages; fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates; and senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.

Ohr was friends with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer commissioned by an American political research firm to explore Trump’s alleged ties with the Russian government. He is the only current government employee on the list.

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“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Trump told the Journal. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

At least two of the former officials, Comey and McCabe, do not currently have security clearances, and none receive intelligence briefings. Trump’s concern apparently is that their former status gives special weight to their statements, both to Americans and foreign foes.

Democrats called it an “enemies list”, a reference to the Nixon White House of the late 1960s and ’70s, which kept a list of President Richard Nixon’s political opponents to be targeted with punitive measures.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, insisted that the White House wasn’t targeting only Trump critics.

But Trump did not order a review of the clearance held by former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired from the White House for lying to Vice-President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian officials, and who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Democrats, and even some Republicans, lined up to denounce the president’s move, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, slamming it as a “stunning abuse of power”.

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California Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, tweeted, “An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic and un-American.”

Several Republicans also weighed in, with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee saying, “Unless there’s something tangible that I’m unaware of, it just, as I’ve said before, feels like a banana republic kind of thing.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she saw no grounds for revoking Brennan’s security clearance, “unless there is disclosure of classified information, of which I’m unaware”.