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Trump: Brennan led the 'rigged witch hunt'

President Donald Trump drew a connection in a new interview with The Wall Street Journal between his decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance with his involvement in the investigation into Russian election interference. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

Posted: Aug. 17, 2018 11:45 AM
Updated: Aug. 17, 2018 11:45 AM

Thirteen former senior intelligence officials -- a list that includes officials who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents -- are denouncing President Donald Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance as "ill-considered" and "unprecedented."

"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," the former senior intelligence officials, including former CIA directors, former CIA deputy directors, and a former director of national intelligence, said in a statement released Thursday.

They went on to argue, "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," the former officials said, adding that the signal "is inappropriate and deeply regrettable."

The list originally included 12 officials, but overnight, former CIA director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates added himself to the list.

One of the signees, former director of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden told CNN's John Berman Friday on "New Day" that making the decision to sign the statement was not difficult.

"Using the security clearance process to punish a political opponent was simply inappropriate even though we admit that the president has absolute authority in this area," Hayden said. "It's just a bad thing to do for the health of the American republic and the health of American debate."

The former intelligence leaders added in their statement that "decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views."

They also defended Brennan's character and called allegations against Brennan of wrongdoing "baseless."

Hayden and James Clapper, another official on the statement and the former Director of National Intelligence under President Barack Obama, are both included on a list of officials that the administration is considering stripping of security clearances. Both have been outspoken against Trump.

Trump announced on Wednesday that he was revoking Brennan's security clearance, first citing that the former CIA director posed a security risk. He later, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, connected Brennan's security clearance revocation with the Russia investigation, saying the probe was a "witch hunt" and "these people led it."

Asked about the intelligence officials' comments, Trump told reporters Friday that he's received a "tremendous response" after revoking Brennan's clearance and that "if anything, I'm giving them a bigger voice."

Brennan, who served under Obama, was one of the intelligence chiefs who signed off on the intelligence community's January 2017 assessment that Russia interfered with the intent to help Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton.

This story has been updated.

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