Nearly 200 former US officials have signed a statement protesting Donald Trump’s removal of former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, as the backlash against the president from intelligence agencies grows.
State Department and Pentagon officials filled the list, which includes 15 former directors and deputy directors of the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Opposition came from both sides of the political divide, taking in former officials who had worked for both Democrats and Republicans.
Mr Trump revoked security clearance for Mr Brennan on 15 August and the 62-year-old former official, who served under both former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama, said he was considering legal action against Mr Trump.
“I am going to do whatever I can to try to prevent these abuses in the future, and if it means going to court, I will do that,” Mr Brennan said on NBC’s Meet the Press programme.
Mr Trump responded by tweeting he “hopes John Brennan, the worst CIA director in our country’s history, brings a lawsuit”.
“It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, emails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with the” FBI investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller looking into alleged collusion between Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign team and Russian officials.
The president then called the probe a “witch hunt” yet again.
“He won’t sue!” the president claimed on Twitter.
His tweet comes after national security advisor John Bolton suggested Mr Brennan’s clearance may have been revoked because he misused classified information, although he offered no evidence to substantiate the claim.
“My opinion is that he was politicising intelligence,” he said.
“I think a number of people have commented that [Brennan] couldn’t be in the position he’s in of criticising President Trump and his so-called collusion with Russia unless he did use classified information. But I don’t know the specifics.”
Last month, the White House announced it was discussing revoking security clearances from Mr Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice, and director of national intelligence James Clapper for making “baseless accusations” against the president.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president was “looking into the mechanisms of removing their security clearances because they have politicised and in some cases monetised their public service”. All of them had served under Mr Obama.
“Being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate,” Ms Sanders said, without providing any evidence to support the statement.
The statement signed by intelligence officials said “the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied” to former government officials expressing their expert opinions on the current administration.
“All of us believe it is critical to protect classified information from unauthorised disclosure. But we believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so,” it said.
While some, including Mr Clapper, do not necessarily agree with all of Mr Brennan’s comments criticising Mr Trump, all those who signed the statement agreed he had a right to say them.
Mr Clapper said to ABC News: “John is subtle like a freight train and he’s going to say what’s on his mind. I think, though, that the common denominator among all of us that have been speaking up, though, is genuine concern about the jeopardy or threats to our institutions and values, and although we may express that in different ways.”