0421 GMT April 19, 2019
Trump said he’d had to do “something” about the “rigged” federal probe of Russian election interference, AP reported.
Trump’s admission that he acted out of frustration about the Russia probe underscored his willingness to use his executive power to fight back against an investigation he sees as a threat to his presidency. Legal experts said the dispute may add to the evidence being reviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In an opinion piece in The New York Times, former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump’s decision, announced Wednesday, to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end Mueller’s investigation. Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama and has become a vocal Trump critic, called Trump’s claims that he did not collude with Russia “hogwash.”
The only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” Brennan wrote.
Later Thursday, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics.” Writing in The Washington Post, William H. McRaven said he would “consider it an honor” if Trump would revoke his clearance, as well.
“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote.
That was followed late Thursday by a joint letter from 12 former senior intelligence officials calling Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented.” They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”
The signees included six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Two of the signees — Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden — have appeared on a White House list of people who may also have their security clearances revoked.
Trump on Wednesday openly tied his decision to strip Brennan of his clearance — and threaten nearly a dozen other former and current officials — to the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with his campaign. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump again called the probe a “rigged witch hunt” and said “these people led it!”
“So I think it’s something that had to be done,” he said.
The president’s comments were a swift departure from the official explanation given by the White House earlier Wednesday that cited the “the risks” posed by Brennan’s alleged “erratic conduct and behavior.” It marked the latest example of the president contradicting a story his aides had put forward to explain his motivations.
Attorneys said the revocation appeared to be within the president’s authority. But they noted the power play also could be used to reinforce a case alleging obstruction of justice, following the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his repeated tweets calling for the investigation to end.
Mueller and his team have been looking at Trump’s public statements and tweets as they investigate whether the president could be guilty of obstruction.
Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period. But Trump said Wednesday he is reviewing the clearances of several other former top intelligence and law enforcement officials, including former FBI director Comey and current senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. All are critics of the president or are people who Trump appears to believe are against him.