Former high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials continued to criticize President Donald Trump and his administration on Sunday for threatening to revoke the security clearances of the president’s critics.
Trump last week revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, a vocal critic of the president's actions related to special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The White House is reviewing the clearances of nine other veteran intelligence officers.
Brennan had become an outspoken critic of Trump. In July, he described as “nothing short of treasonous” Trump's news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin following their summit in Helsinki, Finland. On Twitter, Brennan said Trump’s performance at the news conference — where the president declined a reporter's request to definitively acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — "rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' "
Michael Hayden, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday the relationship between Trump and much of the intelligence community “is dangerously close to being permanently broken. It is badly injured right now.”
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, on “Fox News Sunday,” referenced the actions of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation when he discussed Trump's revoking of Brennan's security clearance and the potential he'll target other critics in the future.
“It immediately brings back the whole concept of the enemies list under President Nixon, and even before that, in the early 50s, the McCarthy era, where the administration starts putting together lists of individuals that don’t agree with him, and that historically, obviously has proven incredibly problematic for the country,” Mullen said. “It’s creating a list of political enemies, in particular, those who have worked in a government, and some very specifically who have spent their life in government."
Brennan, speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," told host Chuck Todd, Trump's action against him “was a clear signal to others who still have their security clearances, both in the government as well as outside, that if you cross him, if you speak out against him, he is going to use whatever tools he might have at his disposal, to punish you."
Brennan added, "just because he has the ability to revoke one’s clearance, doesn’t mean that he is doing it for the appropriate reasons.”
“If my clearances, and my reputation as I’m being pulled through the mud now, if that’s the price we’re going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it’s a small price to pay," Brennan said, when asked by Todd whether he will pursue legal action against the Trump administration for revoking his security clearance. "So, I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will do that.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) defended the president's decision to revoke Brennan's clearance but cautioned the president against revoking security access for political reasons.
“John Brennan really did cross the line. He’s one of the leaders of the resistance movement. I understand why President Trump is pretty frustrated," said Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, on "Fox News Sunday."
However, Johnson said, “I don’t want this to become routine.” Asked about Trump's review of the nine officials' clearances, Johnson said, "I don't want to see him politicize this."
National security adviser John Bolton, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” accused Brennan of “politicizing intelligence” since leaving his post at the CIA.
“I think a number of people have commented that he couldn't be in the position he's in of criticizing President Trump and his so-called collusion with Russia unless he did use classified information, but I don't know the specifics,” Bolton said, when asked if he could cite any specific examples of Brennan misusing classified information.
Bolton said it would be “useful” to re-examine the federal government’s long-standing policy of allowing former national security officials to retain their security clearances. Officials have typically kept them as part of a practice to allow current officials to discuss sensitive matters with their predecessors that carry-over from one presidency to the next.