WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday dared former CIA Director John Brennan to take legal action to try to prevent him from stripping security clearances from other current and former officials.
“I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA Director in our country’s history, brings a lawsuit,” Trump tweeted. “It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, emails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with” the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. “He won’t sue!”
The war of words between Trump and Brennan continued as scores more former U.S. national security employees joined a wave of opposition to the president’s threat to continue pulling clearances. To date, more than 250 have publicly expressed opposition.
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Brennan said he’s been contacted by a number of lawyers about the possibility of an injunction in the wake of Trump’s move to revoke his clearance and threaten nine others who have been critical of the president or are connected to Mueller’s investigation, which Trump has called witch hunt.
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“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. “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.”
Brennan, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration, said that while he’ll fight on behalf of his former CIA colleagues, it’s also up to Congress to put aside politics and step in. “This is the time that your country is going to rely on you, not to do what is best for your party but what is best for the country,” he said.
Trump yanked Brennan’s security clearance on Wednesday, saying he felt he had to do “something” about the “rigged” probe of Russian election interference. And he has said he may do the same for nine others, including a Justice Department official whose wife worked for the firm involved in producing a dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia.
Soon after, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics.” Writing in The Washington Post, William H. McRaven said he would “consider it an honor” if Trump would revoke his clearance, as well.
That was followed by a joint letter from 15 former senior intelligence officials, who said the president’s decision had “nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.” The signees included seven former CIA directors, six former CIA deputy directors and two former national intelligence directors, James Clapper and retired Navy Adm. Denny Blair.
A day later, 60 former senior CIA officials added their names.
This past weekend, the organizers of the initial messages were inundated with more than 175 additional requests to sign on to the opposition, not only from people who have worked in intelligence, but also senior officials who had worked at the State, Defense and Justice departments, the National Security Council and NASA. They issued a letter of their own on Monday.
“Everybody wants to keep their Security Clearance, it’s worth great prestige and big dollars, even board seats, and that is why certain people are coming forward to protect Brennan,” Trump said in another tweet Monday. “It certainly isn’t because of the good job he did! He is a political “hack.”
Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Obama, likened it to President Richard Nixon’s use of a political enemies list.
Mullen told “Fox News Sunday” that while he doesn’t agree with Brennan’s decision to criticize the president, the former CIA director has the right to freedom of speech unless he’s revealing classified information.
“It immediately brings back the whole concept of the enemies list,” Mullen said, “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 them and that historically, obviously, has proven incredibly problematic for the country.”
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin agreed with Trump that Brennan’s comments “really did cross a line.”
But, he said, rather than pulling officials’ security clearances, Trump should avoid politicizing the issue and simply deny them access to classified material.
“I don’t want to see an enemies list,” he said.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin reporting from Bridgewater, N.J., and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report