WASHINGTON — Twelve former senior intelligence officials have issued a statement on what they call “the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances.”
The statement is a reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision Wednesday to strip former CIA Director Brennan of his security clearance.
“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 released late Thursday said.
It was signed by six former CIA directors, five former CIA deputy directors and a former director of National Intelligence.
WATCH: John Brennan Accuses Trump of Trying to Silence Those Who Challenge Him
“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 the former and current officials,” the statement said.
An honor to lose security clearance
In another development, the former U.S. Navy admiral who led the operation to kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is challenging Trump to revoke his security clearance.
In an open letter to Trump in The Washington Post, retired Admiral William McRaven wrote he would consider it an “honor.”
“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.
The retired admiral was reacting to Trump stripping former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance Wednesday. McRaven called Brennan “one of the finest public servants I have ever known.”
Trump contradicts explanation
Trump contradicted the official White House explanation of why he took the action against Brennan.
He told The Wall Street Journal, for its Thursday editions, he believes Brennan is one of those responsible for special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to derail the investigation.
Trump repeated his belief the probe is a “rigged witch hunt … a sham … and these people led it,” referring to Brennan and nine other past and current government security officials whose clearances he is considering revoking.
“So, I think it’s something that had to be done,” Trump said of taking away Brennan’s clearance.
The president said he does not trust “many of those people on that list” and does not think they are “good people.”
On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders denied that Brennan and others are being singled out because they are critics of Trump.
She cited what she called Brennan’s “erratic conduct and behavior” that “has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.” She also questioned Brennan’s “objectivity and credibility.”
Brennan said he believes Trump stripped his security clearance for political reasons and wants to “silence others who might dare to challenge him.”
He wrote in Thursday’s The New York Times that Trump “clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him.
He called Trump’s assertion there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia “hogwash.”
“The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of ‘Trump Incorporated’ attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets,” Brennan wrote.
The White House said Wednesday security clearances are under review for former U.S. National Intelligence director James Clapper, former FBI director James Comey, former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Brennan has been a familiar face on television news shows where he has made scathing attacks on the president. He called Trump’s performance at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “treasonous.”
Brennan on Twitter described Trump’s action Wednesday as part of a broader effort “to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics,” adding that it “should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out.”