Punishing A Critic? Trump Strips John Brennan Of Security Clearances
NOEL KING, HOST:
Former CIA Director John Brennan has written a fiery response to the Trump administration after the president took away Brennan's security clearance yesterday. In a New York Times op-ed this morning, Brennan ties the president's decision to the ongoing Russia investigation. Brennan has been openly critical of Trump's ties to Russia. And he says this move is, quote, "an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare challenge him," him meaning the president. Now, in a statement yesterday read by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, President Trump accused the former CIA director of, quote, "erratic conduct and behavior."
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.
KING: All right. I'm joined now by another top former intelligence official, John McLaughlin. He was the acting director of the CIA under George W. Bush.
Good morning, Mr. McLaughlin.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. The move the president has made in revoking this security clearance is pretty unusual, but the president justified it. He said, quote, "I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation's classified information including by controlling access to it." Did John Brennan pose a danger in having that security clearance?
MCLAUGHLIN: No, absolutely not. I think the only way we can see this, Noel, is starkly for what it is. It is an attempt by the president to silence his critics and to intimidate them by taking an action like the one he's taken. I've looked at the executive order that governs the revocation of clearances, and there's absolutely nothing in it that would justify what the president has done or that would link up with the way the White House has described this.
KING: The White House has accused him of erratic behavior. Mr. Brennan has been tweeting out these very harsh things, criticizing the president. He called Trump's performance at this summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, quote, "nothing short of treasonous." He added that Trump's comments were imbecilic and that he was in the pocket of Putin. I mean, what do you think about Mr. Brennan's approach to criticizing the president? Is he doing it right?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, I think this is really not about John Brennan. I don't think it's really about John Brennan. I think he's a symbol for something else. John Brennan has strong views. And I think the issues he's talking about, what motivates him - I haven't spoken to him directly about this - but what motivates him I think is a conviction that some of the things the president is doing actually transcends politics, and they go right to the heart of what intelligence is all about, which is speaking the truth.
So I think that's what's driving Mr. Brennan. And I hope that those who disagree with him or who think he's gone too far or been too extreme don't let their dislike and their disapproval obscure the broader fact here, which is - as I said at the outset - that the president has crossed a line he has never crossed before in all that he's done. He's crossed an important line here in seeking to silence a critic through the use of his power. It's about that stark.
KING: Remind us quickly, what is the benefit of allowing former intelligence officials to keep their security clearance? Why does that happen in the first place?
MCLAUGHLIN: Sure. Well, everyone should understand it doesn't mean that you actually go in and read classified information every day. You keep your clearance because there are times when the government - someone in the government, high level or low level - may want to consult you about an issue that you've worked on and on which you have special knowledge. I was called back into the government, not sitting full time at a desk but coming in three days a week to work on a - to chair a panel in 2009 that reviewed a near intelligence failure that could have cost American lives. And I did that for about six months with no pay.
MCLAUGHLIN: I couldn't have done that without a security clearance.
KING: Oh, that's interesting. You were brought in for your expertise and you worked on a volunteer basis. Let me then actually bring you to another sort of interesting point here. The support for this move didn't come solely from within the Trump administration. Senator Rand Paul who has, you know, has a tricky relationship with the president...
KING: ...Supported this move in part because of Brennan's making partisan political use of his clearance - that's how he put it - and making money. Mr. Brennan goes on TV as - sort of as a pundit. Is this a fair point?
MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think it is. I think Senator Paul is way off base there. John Brennan's security clearance has nothing to do with whatever he said about the president. So - and as far as his television commentary, it's based largely on his past experience and his expertise in foreign affairs, which goes back 20 years.
KING: Just briefly, this is another example of this bad relationship between the president and intelligence services. Quickly, what are the consequences of this fight?
MCLAUGHLIN: I think it sends a chill through the community of people who wish to express their opinions about Mr. Trump. I don't think it will affect the performance of the intelligence community, which, knowing my former colleagues, they are dedicated to telling the truth no matter what. And I wouldn't worry about that.
KING: John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA.
Mr. McLaughlin, thank you so much.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.