Donald Trump condemned by 12 former CIA chiefs

Twelve former CIA chiefs have denounced Donald Trump’s decision to revoke John Brennan’s national security clearance, condemning the move as “an attempt to stifle free speech”.

The US president on Wednesday removed the ability for Mr Brennan – himself a former CIA director – to access sensitive government information, citing the Russia investigation as the reason behind the move.

But in an extraordinary joint statement on Thursday evening, the former US security officials said they felt “compelled” to respond to the “unprecedented” decision by the Mr Trump, whose allegations against Mr Brennan they branded “baseless”.

“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the statement said.

It continued: “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case. Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials.

“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech – even when that right has been used to criticise us – that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”

The signees included seven former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and former director of national intelligence James Clapper. Two of the signees — Mr Clapper and former CIA director Michael Hayden — have appeared on a White House list of people who may also have their security clearances revoked.

Mr Trump openly tied his decision to strip Mr Brennan of his clearance to the ongoing investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion with his campaign.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham,” Mr Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “And these people led it!”

“So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

However, the connection to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was not mentioned in an earlier Trump statement released by the White House.

In the initial statement, the president denounced Mr Brennan’s criticism of him and spoke of “the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behaviour.” Mr Trump added he was fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information”.

The statement was dated 26 July upon its release on Wednesday, which prompted some to suggest it had been decided weeks in advance and but was saved to use as a political distraction. Moments later, a second statement was released with the date removed.

Writing in The New York Times, Mr Brennan said Mr Trump’s decision to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end Mr Mueller’s investigation. Mr Brennan, who served under Barack Obama and has become a vocal critic of the current administration, called Mr Trump’s claims he did not collude with Russia “hogwash.”

The only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” Mr Brennan wrote.

William H McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics”, adding he would “consider it an honour” if Mr Trump revoked his clearance as well.

“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Attorneys said the revocation appeared to be within the president’s authority, but they noted the power play could also be used to reinforce a case alleging obstruction of justice, following the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and his repeated tweets calling for the investigation to end.

The statement was dated 26 July upon its release on Wednesday, which prompted some to suggest it had been decided weeks in advance and but was saved to use as a political distraction. Moments later, a second statement was released with the date removed.

Writing in The New York Times, Mr Brennan said Mr Trump’s decision to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end Mr Mueller’s investigation. Mr Brennan, who served under Barack Obama and has become a vocal critic of the current administration, called Mr Trump’s claims he did not collude with Russia “hogwash.”

The only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” Mr Brennan wrote.

William H McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics”, adding he would “consider it an honour” if Mr Trump revoked his clearance as well.

“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Attorneys said the revocation appeared to be within the president’s authority, but they noted the power play could also be used to reinforce a case alleging obstruction of justice, following the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and his repeated tweets calling for the investigation to end.

And it underscores why the president’s lawyers are fearful of allowing Mr Trump to sit down for an interview with Mr Mueller’s team, as Mr Trump has repeatedly said he is interested in doing.

In announcing Mr Comey’s firing, the White House initially cited the former FBI director’s handling of the probe into Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s emails, seizing on the FBI director’s decision to divulge details of the probe to the public during her campaign against Mr Trump.

But a few days after Mr Comey was dismissed, Mr Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview that he was really thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired Mr Comey.

Mr Trump later changed direction again, tweeting that he “never fired James Comey because of Russia!”

Early this month, he admitted in a tweet that the Trump Tower meeting, which was arranged by his son, Donald Trump Jr, “was a meeting to get information on an opponent”.

That directly contradicted a July 2017 statement from Mr Trump Jr – written with the consultation of the White House – that claimed the meeting had been primarily about adoption.

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