Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper said Sunday the “rhetoric” of his former intelligence community colleague John Brennan “has become an issue” in the growing scandal sparked by President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the former CIA director’s security clearance.
“Do you think John Brennan’s hyperbole is an issue here — is one of the reasons we’re having this crisis?” CNN host Jake Tapper asked Clapper Sunday on “State of the Union.”
Clapper responded, “I think it is. I think John is subtle like a freight train and he’s going to say what’s on his mind,” but then hastened to qualify his comment, observing “that the common denominator among all of us that have been speaking up is genuine concern about the jeopardy or threats to our institutions and values, although we all may express that in different ways. But John and his rhetoric, I think, have become an issue in and of itself.”
Trump said he revoked Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday after the former CIA director “leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations” about the Trump administration.
The president is also reviewing the security clearances of other former top intelligence and law enforcement officials, including Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Michael Hayden, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, former FBI Chief of the Counterespionage Section Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
National security adviser John Bolton defended Trump’s decision to revoke Brennan’s clearance and review other clearances, saying on ABC News’ “This Week” that Brennan “and others in the Obama administration were politicizing intelligence. I think that’s a very dangerous thing to do. There is a line, and somebody can cross it.”
Brennan’s criticism of Trump since the November 2016 election has been steadily rising in sharpness and intensity, culminating recently in his calling the chief executive a “traitor” and a “tyrant.” The penalty for treason under the Constitution is the death penalty.
For his part Sunday, Brennan threatened to pursue legal action against Trump after losing his security clearance, vowing on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that “I’m 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 added that “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 denied that he was being partisan because he’s “not a Republican” and “not a Democrat” and because “many members of the Congress over the years who have security clearances have spoken out rather forcefully against whoever was in the Oval Office if they weren’t from the same political party.”
“So now as a private citizen they’re telling me that I shouldn’t do that?” Brennan asked. “I’m sorry, I just fundamentally disagree with that.”
But retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Brennan “has been incredibly critical of the president, and I think that has put him in a political place, which actually does more damage for the intelligence community, which is apolitical, even as he’s retired.”
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that Brennan “abused his privilege” when he targeted Trump and accused him of “treasonous behavior.”
“I do believe that former CIA director John Brennan abused his privilege,” Johnson said. “When you are an ex-CIA director, and you are going on all the cable news shows and acting as partisan as he has and accusing the president of the United States of treasonous behavior, high crimes and misdemeanors. Last time I checked, treason was punishable by death.”
Brennan called Trump’s behavior during his controversial press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, “nothing short of treasonous” in a tweet on July 16.
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan tweeted.
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Brennan tried to walk back that tweet Friday during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
“And I did say that it rises to and exceeds the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and nothing short of treasonous, because he had the opportunity there to be able to say to the world that this is something that happened,” Brennan said. “And that’s why I said it was nothing short of treasonous. I didn’t mean that he committed treason. But it was a term that I used, nothing short of treasonous.”
But Maddow didn’t believe Brennan, noting that saying something is “nothing short of treasonous means it’s treason.”