More than a dozen former top security and intelligence officials have come together to denounce President Trump’s move earlier this week to personally revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan as “an attempt to stifle free speech.”
The group, which includes seven former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and a former director of national intelligence, signed a letter late Thursday that called Mr. Trump’s move “ill-considered and unprecedented” and defended Mr. Brennan’s public criticism of the president.
“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to with an attempt to stifle free speech,” they wrote.
President Trump on Friday defended his decision, saying he isn’t trying to silence Mr. Brennan and that the controversy gave the former CIA director “a bigger voice.”
“And that’s OK with me because I like taking on voices like that,” he told reporters outside the White House.
Mr. Brennan and Mr. Trump have clashed over the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election ever since Mr. Trump’s victory, with Mr. Brennan leaving his post at the CIA on the day of Mr. Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
DOCUMENT: Brennan statement
In the past year, their war of words has escalated over special counsel’s Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. When Mr. Trump revoked the clearance, he said in a statement that the former CIA director had “a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.”
Thursday’s bipartisan letter was signed by former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus, among others.
It described Mr. Brennan as “enormously talented, capable and patriotic” and noted that not all of the signatories agree with the former CIA director’s strong criticism of the president, but that he should be free to speak without repercussions.
“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” they wrote.
During an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Mr. Hayden warned Mr. Trump’s actions could hurt the relationship between the presidency and the intelligence community.
“That’s a horrible and frankly implicit message to send to the intelligence community,” Mr. Hayden said, “It’s really a bad deal for the president because he needs these people to feel free to come in and tell him even unhappy news.”
SEE ALSO: William McRaven asks Donald Trump to revoke his security clearance in solidarity with John Brennan
Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden, slammed the president in a Washington Post op-ed over his decision to revoke Mr. Brennan’s security clearance.
“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add by name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” Mr. McRaven wrote. “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.”
Mr. Trump justified his clearance crackdown as a way to stop former officials from abusing their access for political agendas.
He said there are other former Obama-era officials that are at risk of losing their clearances, including former FBI Director James B. Comey, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
On Friday, Mr. Trump said Bruce Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general, may be next on the chopping block.
“I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace and I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly,” the president said before boarding Marine One for a Southampton, New York, fundraiser.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley responded to the letter Friday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” by emphasizing that security clearances are a privilege, not a right.
“The point here is that we’re talking about Mr. Brennan, someone who lied to Congress on multiple occasions,” he said. “The president has the right to do this. He also has the whole of all the information. He knows it all. He understands it, and realizes this person’s privilege of having security clearance needs to be taken away.”