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Trump connects Brennan punishment, Russia scandal in provocative way

The official White House explanation for punishing former CIA Director John Brennan is at odds with Trump's admitted rationale.
)FILES)White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in...

The White House issued a written statement yesterday afternoon, describing the official rationale for Donald Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. It's ostensibly from the president himself -- it's written in the first person -- and it lists a litany of concerns about the former CIA chief, characterizing him as an erratic liar who makes outrageous allegations online and on television.

There's no shortage of problems with Trump targeting one of his perceived enemies like this, but complicating matters is the fact that the official explanation is apparently incomplete. The president added an additional explanation for yesterday's announcement in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation, which also is looking into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Russia has denied interfering.Mr. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Democratic administration of former President Obama and one of those who presented evidence to Mr. Trump shortly before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election."I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham," Mr. Trump said in an interview. "And these people led it!"He added: "So I think it's something that had to be done."

Oh. So the official explanation is that the president believes Brennan is an unhinged ideologue, but the explanation from Trump himself is that Brennan is connected to the investigation into the Russia scandal -- which in the president's mind, means he must be punished.

In fairness, it'd be helpful to see the full context of the exchange -- as best as I can tell, the Wall Street Journal has not yet published a full transcript of the 20-minute interview -- to fully appreciate the point Trump was conveying.

That said, assuming the reporting is accurate, it looks like a classic example of Kinsley Gaffe: the president made a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.

What's more, let's not brush past the relevant details. Brennan, in his capacity as the director of the CIA, was directly involved with the initial response to Russia's attack on our elections, but his connection to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's criminal probe is incidental. It's not like Brennan has served in an investigatory role, digging into Trump and his political operation's suspected wrongdoing.

The distinction matters because it adds to clarity to the president's objections. He punished the former CIA chief, not because he's been part of Mueller's team, but because Brennan was part of the intelligence team that exposed the Russian attack.

To hear Trump tell it, that role means that he "had to" retaliate against Brennan. In reality, he really didn't.