Clapper: Trump sending 'chilling' message

In an interview with CNN's John Berman, Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the members of the intelligence community who put together findings on Russian meddling in US are being punished and that first amendment rights are under threat.

Posted: Aug 17, 2018 3:10 AM
Updated: Aug 17, 2018 3:12 AM

Several high-profile Republican senators told CNN over the past day that they have no issue with President Donald Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the chamber's second-ranking Republican, said Thursday he doesn't understand why former employees have access to classified information at all.

He said he hardly believes Brennan was assisting the Trump White House -- a reason given for why some former intelligence community employees can maintain their security clearance -- and that Trump's concern has been individuals monetizing their access to classified information for personal gain.

"Unless there is some justification not to," Cornyn said, suggesting it might be worth having all former employees lose their clearances when they are done being in office.

And he wasn't the only one. Of the public statements made by Republican senators, more sounded supportive of the President than against.

GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado called Brennan's comments on the administration "disgraceful" to the country.

"I think what John Brennan has said about this country over the past several months has been disgraceful," Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN on Thursday.

Asked whether he was troubled by Trump's decision, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott responded, "why should I find it to be troubling?"

"I don't think it's retribution," Scott told CNN. "However, I think it's clear that Brennan has found a way to monetize a part of his national security clearance and I'm not sure how that served our national security."

And Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, said it was Trump's "prerogative" to pull security clearances.

The White House on Wednesday originally cited national security concerns for cutting off the clearance, a reasoning that appeared to be undercut by comments Trump later made to the Wall Street Journal where he connected Brennan to the special counsel's Russia investigation.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham. And these people led it!" Trump told the Journal in an interview. "So I think it's something that had to be done."

Brennan wrote in a blistering New York Times op-ed that Trump "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 in the op-ed published Thursday morning.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican responded to Brennan's op-ed in a statement to reporters Thursday.

"Director Brennan's recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power. If Director Brennan's statement is based on intelligence he received while still leading the CIA, why didn't he include it in the Intelligence Community Assessment released in 2017?" he said in the statement. "If, however, Director Brennan's statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch."

Not all Republicans agreed with Trump's decisions. Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Tennessee Republican who's not running for re-election, repeated to CNN on Thursday his comparison that the President's move to strip Brennan's clearance is like a "banana republic."

Corker said Trump's behavior is symptomatic of how the President is "continual tearing down institutions causing Americans to lose faith in institutions instead of building them up -- that's what made our country function the way that it is. ... if you're going to serve in the public arena, you're going to have people rail against you. That's just part of it."

Moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Wednesday that while Brennan has been "far too political in his statements," she did not see a need to revoke his clearance.

"I think it's unwise because generally recently retired national security officials have a lot to contribute," Collins said.

Brennan is the first former national security official to have his security clearance revoked after the White House announced last month that Trump was considering taking that action against several of his most vocal critics in the national security world.

In a statement read in the White House briefing room by press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday, the President explained his decision by saying, "Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets."

The former CIA director criticized the news Wednesday on Twitter, calling it "part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics," and saying it "should gravely worry all Americans."

The comments from Cornyn, Gardner and Isakson came the day after other GOP senators -- including John Kennedy of Louisiana -- sided with the President. Kennedy called Brennan "butthead" who doesn't need the clearance.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul had strongly had advocated for the removal of Brennan's clearance in advance of Trump's decision.

"I applaud President Trump for his revoking of John Brennan's security clearance," Paul said in a statement after the White House announcement. "I urged the President to do this. I filibustered Brennan's nomination to head the CIA in 2013, and his behavior in government and out of it demonstrate why he should not be allowed near classified information. He 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."

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that Brennan brought it upon himself.

"I think Mr. Brennan brought this upon himself by being so outrageous in his comments, making conclusions that I don't think are supported by the evidence," he said. "When you look at CIA policy of how a former director should carry themselves, I think Mr. Brennan stepped well over the line."

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakotan and member of Senate GOP leadership, said he doesn't know everything the administration knows, "but I think there is a reason national security professionals keep those clearances and I think it's probably to provide continuity."

Thune said however they likely had reasons for doing it.

"I do think that the fact that he is out there every day acting in a partisan way probably doesn't help his cause," Thune said.

And Sen. Roy Blunt said he wants to take a "look at this whole security clearance issue."

"When members of Congress leave no matter how long they've been on the intel committee, they have to go through a process to have a reason to have a continued security clearance," he said. "I'm a little surprised that as many people have these clearances as do have and frankly it's created a situation where I want to look at that whole process closer than I have in the past."

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