Trump backtracks on Russia interference comment
President Trump seemingly followed the advice of his new friend, Sen. Rand Paul, when he revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
It was an angry Paul who last month called for Brennan’s clearance to be yanked, after Brennan called Trump’s appearance at a news conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin “nothing short of treasonous.”
Paul assailed Brennan in a Fox News interview as “completely unhinged” and a “Trump hater” and in a series of tweets on July 23, said he planned to meet with Trump at the White House and tell him that “John Brennan and other partisans should have their security clearances revoked.”
“Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees,” Paul tweeted, questioning whether Brennan was “making millions of dollars divulging secrets to the mainstream media with his attacks” on Trump. Brennan is a national security commentator for NBC and MSNBC.
Asked about Paul’s suggestion at a White House briefing the same day, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was “not only” looking to take away Brennan’s security clearance, but was looking into canceling the clearance for a host of other former officials and Trump critics, including fired FBI Director James Comey and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence.
“The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances,” she said at the time.
The memo that details Trump’s decision to yank Brennan’s credentials was released Wednesday, but was originally dated July 26 - 3 days after Paul met with Trump. The White House later said the date was an error.
But the statement tracks some of Paul’s criticism, accusing Brennan of leveraging “his status as a former high-ranking official ... to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about the administration.” It accuses Brennan of “increasingly frenzied commentary” and says his behavior is “wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets.”
In a press release on Wednesday, Paul hailed the decision and noted he had urged Trump to make the move. He said he had filibustered Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA in 2013 “and his behavior in government and out of it demonstrates why he should not be allowed near classified information.” He said Brennan of participated in a “shredding of constitutional rights, lied to Congress and has been monetizing and making partisan political use of his clearance since his departure.”
The decision to listen to Paul’s counsel is the latest evidence of an increasingly tight bond emerging between the president and the Kentucky Republican, who fought Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, but has emerged as a top defender of Trump’s foreign policy, particularly when it comes to Russia.
Paul and Trump have forged close ties since they savaged each other in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Trump wrote Paul a letter of introduction to Putin when Paul traveled last week to Russia.
Paul has been one of the few Republicans who defended Trump’s outreach to Russia, arguing that it’s important for the U.S. and Russia to keep talking. He said he was “honored” to deliver Trump’s message, which he said “emphasized the importance of further engagement.”
Paul told reporters this week that Russian officials refused to acknowledge interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign and he said the U.S. should stop expecting the country to confess.
Nicholas Rostow, who served as a national security aide to George W. Bush and has been critical of the Trump administration on some national security matters, noted the only other CIA director to have a clearance revoked was John Deutch in the Clinton administration. But Deutch was accused of mishandling classified material, a crime. Deutch pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and Clinton pardoned him.
Rostow also criticized Brennan for breaking precedent and speaking out against the current administration.
“Normally ex-high officials, as a courtesy their clearances are kept active,” Rostow said. “Of course, It’s quite unusual for someone to be as vocal about the successor administration as John Brennan has been. You have two rather unusual things going o. It’s pretty unusual for a former high official to be vocal in criticizing the successor administration. Just as presidents don’t do it. Cabinet or near cabinet officials don’t do it either. Brennan’s outspoken criticism of this administration has been noteworthy, I would say.”
Franco Ordonez contributed to this report.