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Trump Said the Quiet Part Loud About John Brennan

The former CIA director countered the president’s decision to revoke his security clearance with a scathing op-ed

John BrennanHouse Intelligence Committee hearing on the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Washington, USA - 23 May 2017Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the investigation about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 May 2017.

Former CIA Director John Brennan

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Last month, the White House threatened to remove the security clearances of a number of former intelligence officials. The most notable of the bunch was John Brennan, the former CIA director who has been fiercely critical of President Trump. The threat — which Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the time laughed off as “trolling” — didn’t silence Brennan, who tweeted on Tuesday that Trump “will never understand what it means to be president.” A day later, the White House officially revoked his clearance, a move that has been roundly criticized from both sides of the aisle. Brennan responded by tweeting that he “will not relent.” He wasn’t kidding. On Thursday morning, the New York Times published a scathing op-ed by Brennan outlining why Trump’s claim that he never colluded with Russia is “hogwash.”

In a similarly critical op-ed in June for the Washington Post, Brennan described his experience dealing with previous presidents as a way to highlight Trump’s lack of competence, decency and morality. In the new piece for the Times, the long-time intelligence officer wrote of handling Russia’s repeated efforts to infiltrate America’s political system by preying on powerful figures they see as vulnerable. “They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters,” he wrote. “Too often, those puppets are found.”

To Brennan, the question is not whether Trump colluded with Russia — he cites then-candidate Trump’s call for Russian intelligence to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails as proof enough — but “whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of ‘Trump Incorporated’ attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.”

These matters are still being investigated, and Brennan sees the removal of his security clearance as a sign of Trump’s growing concern over Mueller’s inquiry, the scope of which seems to be tightening by the day. “Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him,” Brennan wrote.

To call the removal of Brennan’s security clearance “politically motivated” is being kind to the president. It was a nakedly authoritarian action meant to intimidate those who speak out against him, and the White House’s attempts to spin the president’s petulance into something noble were as transparent as they come. When asked to explain how the revocation wasn’t an attempt by the president to punish his critics and curtail their freedom of speech, Sanders cited the president’s “constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it” and that revoking Brennan’s clearance was the president “fulfilling that responsibility.”

Brennan’s criticisms of the president, however, have not been predicated on his access to classified information. His sustained criticism of Trump’s suspicious relationship with Russia has been based on the president’s public actions, like his “treasonous” press conference alongside Vladimir Putin last month, and actions that have been made public, like when in 2017 he shared some of that precious classified information he swore to protect with Russian officials who were visiting the White House, a perplexing act that potentially put the lives of American assets at risk.

Not only was the White House not able to drum up a passable reason for why Brennan’s clearance was revoked, but, according to Sanders, they shouldn’t have even been able to do it. As CNN’s David Gelles points out, the press secretary in February told reporters that security clearances are not within the White House’s purview.

The president felt the need to punish Brennan’s insolence, though, so protocol was abandoned. Before taking questions Wednesday afternoon, Sanders read the president’s statement explaining why the decision was made. The document was dated July 26th, which seems to indicate that the White House was simply waiting to revoke Brennan’s clearance until it could serve a convenient purpose, say to distract from a former aide releasing a tell-all book and going on a cable news rampage to accuse the president of using racial slurs while releasing surreptitious audio recordings of his conversations. Though the White House would later released an undated version of the statement, its content remained the same. It reads like a psychological evaluation of the president.

The statement the White House wrote for the president was for naught, though, as Trump promptly dismantled the facade of legitimacy his administration constructed around the revocation of Brennan’s clearance. Shortly after the announcement was made, Trump flatly admitted to the Wall Street Journal that his decision came out of frustration over the Mueller investigation. “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” he said. “And these people led it! … So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

Despite being one of the most prolific pathological liars American government has ever seen, Trump can, on occasion and almost always to his detriment, be remarkably honest.

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