CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, DC, June 16, 2016.
Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Former CIA chief questions whether Russians ‘have something on’ Trump

Updated

As Donald Trump’s presidency has progressed, several prominent former officials, who’ve held some of the nation’s top security and intelligence posts, have been unguarded in criticizing the Republican.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, for example, is on record questioning Trump’s “fitness” for office and his “access to nuclear codes.” Clapper added that the president exhibits a “complete intellectual, moral, and ethical void.”

More recently, retired four-star Army General Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News analyst, wrote on Twitter, “Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security…. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr Putin.”

And yesterday, former CIA Director John Brennan appeared on MSNBC and raised eyebrows with a similar assertion, suggesting, in reference to Trump, that Vladimir Putin’s government “may have something on him personally.” Brennan added, “The Russians, I think, have had long experience with Mr. Trump, and may have things that they could expose.”

What made Brennan’s comments stand out as important, however, wasn’t just the intensity of the criticisms. Given his previous role atop the Central Intelligence Agency – and the timing of his tenure – the New York Times  reported that Brennan’s interview set off “furious speculation about whether the former spy chief was basing that assertion on inside information.”

Mr. Brennan was running the C.I.A. when a salacious dossier surfaced in 2016 that claimed the Russians had compromising information on Mr. Trump. If there were any current or former American officials who might know if there was truth behind the allegations in the dossier, Mr. Brennan would most likely be one of them. And his comments came the day after a phone call Mr. Trump made to Mr. Putin congratulating him for winning an election raised new questions about the president’s relationship with Russia. […]

[L]ast weekend, Mr. Brennan – in response to Mr. Trump’s praise for the firing of the former deputy director of the F.B.I., Andrew G. McCabe – issued a remarkable condemnation of the president. “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” Mr. Brennan wrote on Twitter.

This, naturally, raises a couple of possibilities.

It’s possible, of course, that Brennan is watching Trump’s presidency unfold, and like much of the country, he’s appalled by the recent abuses, scandals, and corruption. Maybe the former CIA chief, as a private citizen, is simply engaging in the same kind of speculation – based on public, open-source reporting – many of us consider all the time in the hopes of making sense of the president’s behavior.

It’s also possible that Brennan, in his capacity as the former head of the CIA, knows quite a bit more than the rest of us, and when he casually mentioned that Russia “may have something on” Trump personally, it wasn’t a throwaway line.

In a written statement, Brennan later told the New York Times, “I do not know if the Russians have something on Donald Trump that they could use as blackmail.”

Got it. But do you have reason to suspect they might?

CIA, Donald Trump, John Brennan and Russia

Former CIA chief questions whether Russians 'have something on' Trump

Updated