The Trump administration on Wednesday revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance — a move Brennan said Thursday was meant to silence him from speaking out against the president, who he claimed in an op-ed likely colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
“While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services,” Brennan wrote in a New York Times op-ed, referring to the many Trump campaign figures linked with Russian officials and his previous work with the broader intelligence community to assess the threat of foreign interference in the United States.
“Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash,” he added. The only questions that remained, he said, were whether or not that collusion “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” whether Trump had obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office to hide that conspiracy, and how many members of Trump’s inner circle had been involved in efforts to defraud the U.S. government.
Brennan was the first on a list of targets drawn up by the president to lose his security clearance. In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the White House linked the decision to what it claimed was “erratic” behavior by Brennan, as well as “increasingly frenzied commentary” on a host of news networks — commentary that was often critical of Trump.
Others on the list, whose security clearance the White House is also considering revoking, include former National Security Agency and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice, who served under the Obama administration; former national intelligence director James R. Clapper Jr., who also served under Obama; and Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general who was fired by Trump in late January 2017.
Trump also suggested former FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired in May 2017, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom the administration fired in March this year, would potentially lose their ability to have their security clearances reinstated.
The move was highly criticized, with many comparing the list to President Nixon’s “enemies list,” a rundown of all those Nixon believed had slighted him.
On Thursday, Brennan slammed the security clearance decision, suggesting the president was scrambling to prevent further progress in the ongoing Russia investigation and attempting to silence anyone who might support Mueller’s efforts.
“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 wrote. “Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.”
The White House first floated the idea of revoking security clearances last month, to heavy backlash. During a press briefing on July 23, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration planned to target those who had suggested Trump and his associates may have conspired with Russian officials, saying such talk was “inappropriate.”
“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia — or being influenced by Russia — against the President is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making baseless these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” she said.
On Thursday, Sanders went a step further, saying revoking Brennan’s clearance — as well as anyone critical of the president — was a matter of national security.
“The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information, and who has access to it, and that’s what he is doing, is fulfilling that responsibility and this action,” Sanders said.
Sanders claim was curious, given the long list of former Trump officials who’ve been criminally investigated or indicted over the past year, some of whom had access to highly classified information. Notably, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty last December to one count of lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian officials on sensitive foreign policy matters; Flynn was also accused of failing to register as a foreign agent for his lobbying work on behalf of Turkish President Page Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.