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Trump goes on a purge binge against intelligence community critics

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifiies before the

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifiies before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 about Russia's actions during the 2016 election. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

The spy gets sent out to the cold

Richard Nixon had a secret enemies list, but Donald Trump's is out in the open on Twitter. It includes a roster of officials from previous administrations who have been overtly critical of him or, in Trump's mind, covertly plotting against him.

In a statement Wednesday following through on his past threat to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, the president was also transparent about the central reason: Brennan's outspoken attacks on Twitter and cable TV have gotten under his skin.
"Unfounded and outrageous allegations." "Wild outbursts on the Internet and television." "Lying." "Increasingly frenzied commentary" that helps America's adversaries "sow division and chaos." "Erratic conduct and behavior."

To be clear, that is Trump talking about Brennan.

Trump also named nine other present or former national security and Justice Department officials whose security clearance is under review. All have spoken against Trump or been portrayed by the president as having sinister roles in the Russia investigation "witch hunt."

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who read Trump's statement, said, "The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information, and who has access to it." But questioned by reporters, she offered no allegations that Brennan compromised information.

Brennan remained defiant. "I will not relent," he said. "This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics." Last month, Brennan blasted Trump's behavior when meeting Russia's Vladimir Putin as  "nothing short of treasonous." Just Tuesday, after Trump labeled ex-aide-turned-tell-all-author Omarosa Manigault Newman as a "dog," the ex-CIA director tweeted: "It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity."

Some of Trump's House GOP allies in battling the Russia investigation cheered Trump's move, but there was also bipartisan criticism. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry both likened the move to what is expected in a "banana republic." For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump's rogues gallery

The nine people whose security clearance is under "review" include officials who served under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and a few who were held over when Trump took office.

They are former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, fired FBI Director James Comey, Bush-era CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official. Some, including Comey, don't have current clearances.

Clapper said he has no plans to quiet down about Trump: “If they’re saying that the only way I can speak is to be in an adulation mode of this president, I’m sorry. I don’t think I can sign up to  that.”

Waited for prime time?

When the White House press office handed out copies of Trump's statement, reporters noticed it was dated July 26. Then a new copy was distributed with the date removed.

It suggested that the decision was made almost three weeks ago, but Brennan's clearance was not such a grave danger to the nation that the announcement couldn't be held back for a more opportune moment — like maybe when it would help take attention away from a run of negative news. (Bye, Omarosa, gotta run.)

Janison: Firings and fury

It's not just Omarosa. Less-than-amicable separations from the White House have been a  thing in the Trump administration. 

Steve Bannon's blabbing to author Michael Wolff led Trump to say his former chief strategist had "lost his mind." Rex Tillerson learned of his firing as secretary of state via Twitter. James Comey found out about his ouster as FBI director from a TV report. Abandoned trust, obvious backbiting, churlish behavior, personal vitriol, security concerns and wider societal strife all have a way of afflicting this Oval Office, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

In factual act

Sanders issued a rare correction on Twitter Tuesday night after voicing wildly inaccurate numbers at her briefing earlier in the day to falsely contend that Trump has created three times as many jobs for African-Americans as Obama did. New York magazine writes it's only her second tweeted correction — the other was on a minor scheduling matter — in service of a president who has made more than 4,200 false statements, according to a Washington Post tally. But it's a start. Or maybe an end.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, interviewed on CNN Tuesday night, lined up behind the "alternative facts" theory promulgated in the administration's early days by Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who said facts are "in the eye of the beholder." When host Chris Cuomo disputed that, Giuliani doubled down: "Yes they are. Nowadays they are." (See it at the 1:45 mark on this video.)

So is mathematical logic, if the latest installment in Trump's ritual morning Twitter denunciation of special counsel Robert Mueller's "witch hunt" is an indication. "All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax," he tweeted, "and much more will be lost as it proceeds"

The Conways, a house divided

The Washington Post spent time at home with Kellyanne Conway  one of Trump's best-known boosters, and her Trump-loathing husband, conservative lawyer George Conway, who takes his contempt for the president public on Twitter and other forums. It got a wee bit tense.

“I feel there’s a part of him that thinks I chose Donald Trump over him,” Kellyanne said. “Which is ridiculous. One is my work and one is my marriage.” She also took credit for his rising public profile. “Nobody knows who I am because of my husband,” she says. “People know of my husband because of me.” At one point during the interviews, Kellyanne tried to have her criticism of George's tweets — "a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows"  — attributed to a source. But she was reminded she was on the record.

George called his anti-Trump tweeting a "quick, easy way to express myself that keeps me from making it a bigger part of my life.” He added. “I think I’m actually holding back a little. . . . I think the reason why is obvious.”

But he says he won't stop. “If my wife were the counselor to the CEO of Pepsi and I had a problem with her boss, I would simply drink my Coke and keep my mouth shut,” he said. “If the president were simply mediocre or even bad, I’d have nothing to say. This is much different.”

Cuomo gets grating

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set off a gaffe riot Wednesday with a clumsily worded rebuttal to Trumpism — "We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great.”

Mr. MAGA noticed.

“Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!” the president tweeted.

What else is happening:

  • Trump is heading to Southampton on Friday for a campaign fundraiser that the Republican National Committee said is expected to generate $3 million, reports Newsday's Figueroa.
  • Giuliani told Bloomberg News that if Mueller doesn't hurry up and finish his Russia investigation "in the next two or three weeks, we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks.” Wait — Trump and his lawyer have been holding back?
  • Jury deliberations have begun in the tax and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In closing arguments, a prosecutor for Mueller said "the trail of Mr. Manafort's money . . . is littered with lies." The defense said Manafort  didn't try to hide anything. 
  • Two red-state Democratic senators, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, met privately with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday as top Democrats and outside groups assailed Republicans for refusing to release many of his archived White House  records from the George W. Bush years, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. Confirmation hearings are set to begin Sept. 4.
  • Taking on Trump now isn't turning Omarosa into a hero to black Americans, writes The Associated Press. "She’s still roundly lambasted as a two-bit opportunist, a racial sellout and an ego driven hustler,” author Earl Ofari told AP.
  • Sanders Wednesday would not discuss how many black staffers are in the post-Omarosa West Wing — "I'm not going to go through and do a count." (CNN did, and the count among senior staff is zero.) Sanders added: "We would love to diversify our staff and continue to do so."

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