Revocation Of Ex-CIA Director’s Clearance Draws Mixed Reaction From Congress

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Former CIA director John Brennan arrives at a May 2018 Senate hearing. President Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday, claiming Brennan was acting “erratic.”

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Former CIA director John Brennan arrives at a May 2018 Senate hearing. President Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday, claiming Brennan was acting “erratic.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan is drawing both criticism and praise on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was bothered by the president’s move.

“It feels very much like a banana republic kind of thing,” Corker said.

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Other Republicans were more charitable.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., argued that Brennan’s own rhetoric in criticizing Trump had cheapened the status of intelligence agencies.

“He’s acted like a political hack, and not a national security professional,” Kennedy said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who sparred with Brennan when he led the CIA, said Trump’s decision, “harms our national security and once again shows how petty and thin-skinned President Trump truly is.”

Brennan himself pushed back against the move, calling it “desperate” and “politically motivated.”

The public spat highlights the increasingly partisan shadow that’s been cast over national security and intelligence in the Trump era.

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The administration has offered conflicting explanations for the president’s unusual decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance. An initial statement released by the White House cited what it called the former spy chief’s “erratic conduct,” “wild outbursts,” and “increasingly frenzied commentary.”

But Trump later pointed to Brennan’s role in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Brennan helped lead that probe as CIA director in the Obama administration. Trump blames Brennan and others for planting the seeds of the special counsel’s probe that has dogged his presidency for the last 15 months.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “And these people led it.”

Trump said that’s why he wanted to strip Brennan of his security clearance. “I think it’s something that had to be done,” he told the Journal.

There was no suggestion that Brennan has leaked classified information.

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The White House is also reviewing the security clearance of other former officials who have been critical of the president, including former national intelligence director James Clapper, former national security agency director Michael Hayden, and former FBI director James Comey.

Former high-ranking officials typically retain their security clearance when they leave office so their successors can consult with them on sensitive issues.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Brennan argued the decision to strip his security clearance and review others’ is designed to muzzle the president’s political opponents.

“Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him,” Brennan wrote, calling the clearance revocation “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.”

Hayden made a similar suggestion in an interview with CNN.

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“The White House just messaged the entire American intelligence community,” Hayden said. “If you stand up and say things that upset the president or with which he disagrees, he will punish you. And that is a horrible message to be sending to folks who are there to tell you objective truth.”

Brennan has been sharply critical of Trump, calling his comments after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, “nothing short of treasonous.” After Trump’s attack this week on former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, Brennan tweeted that the president failed “to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, and probity.”

The decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance has evidently been in the works for weeks. The original statement released by the White House on Wednesday included a date of July 26, although aides said that was an error. The White House later issued a revised statement with that date removed.

NPR producer Barbara Sprunt contributed reporting to this story.

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