It’s been a couple of days since Donald Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance in a petty move the president admits was related to the Russia scandal. This morning, Trump brushed off the criticism.
“I know that I’ve gotten tremendous response from having done that, because security clearances are very important to me,” the president said. “Very, very important. And I’ve had a tremendous response for having done that.”
And what about retired Navy Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden? “I don’t know McRaven,” Trump added.
Well, big guy, McRaven knows you. The retired admiral wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday, urging the president to revoke his security clearance, explaining that he would consider it “an honor” to stand alongside those “who have spoken up against your presidency.”
Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.
A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.
Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. 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.
If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.
McRaven isn’t alone. NBC News reported this morning that a growing group former intelligence leaders from over the last three decades – including William Webster, George Tenet, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and James Clapper – have responded angrily to the White House’s move against Brennan.
“Since leaving government service, John has chosen to speak out sharply regarding what he sees as threats to our national security. Some of the undersigned have done so as well. Others among us have elected to take a different course and be more circumspect in our public pronouncements,” they wrote. “Regardless, 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.”
They added, “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.”
NBC’s Peter Alexander confirms that former CIA Director (and Defense Secretary) Robert Gates also has added his name to the letter, making it 13 former intel leaders criticizing the president’s action.
If Trump sees these developments as “tremendous,” he’s not paying close enough attention.
Regardless, it’d be a mistake to think the president is learning anything from the backlash. He also told reporters this morning, in reference to security clearances, “I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly.”
For the record, Ohr works in a senior role at the Justice Department, and he needs his security clearance to do his job. I’ll have more on him later this afternoon.