About 75 members of the intelligence community are taking a public stance against President Trump’s unprecedented decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.
In the 48 hours following Trump’s announcement that he would strip Brennan’s clearance — which came after Brennan had repeatedly spoken out publicly against the president — 15 former senior intelligence officials from bipartisan presidential administrations signed onto an open letter condemning the move. They argued that the president’s decision is a transparent “attempt to stifle free speech.”
The letter first went public on Thursday with 12 names, including former CIA Directors Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and David Petraeus, as well as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. It has since been updated to include three additional signatories.
One of the later additions to the letter was former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under both Barack Obama and George W. Bush during the Iraq War.
Meanwhile, 60 lower-ranking former CIA officials signed onto their own letter on Friday supporting Brennan’s right to express his own opinions without facing consequences from the president.
“Our signatures below do not necessarily mean that we concur with the opinions expressed by former Director Brennan or the way in which he expressed them,” the letter reads. “What they do represent, however, is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views.”
Some critics have taken it a step further. William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the 2011 operation that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday offering up his own clearance.
“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he wrote, addressing Trump.
Brennan hit back at Trump in a New York Times op-ed earlier this week, writing that the president is “desperate to protect himself” from potential consequences of the special counsel’s ongoing Russia investigation and eager to silence his critics.
Lawmakers may try to take matters into their own hands. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted on Friday afternoon that he plans to introduce legislation that would prevent the president from “arbitrarily revoking security clearances.”
Has anyone looked at the mistakes that John Brennan made while serving as CIA Director? He will go down as easily the WORST in history & since getting out, he has become nothing less than a loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted with the secrets to our country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2018
Trump, for his part, isn’t backing down. On Saturday morning, the president smeared Brennan in a tweet as a “loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted with the secrets to our country!”
The Washington Post reports that the White House has drafted documents to revoke additional security clearances from current and former officials “whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”