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Former Intel Chiefs: White House Using Security Clearances As A 'Political Tool'

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Former CIA Director John Brennan in 2017. A group of top former officials who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations called the revocation of Brennan's security clearance "unprecedented."
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Former CIA Director John Brennan in 2017. A group of top former officials who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations called the revocation of Brennan's security clearance "unprecedented."

About a dozen top former intelligence officials are speaking out after the White House revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, a vocal critic of President Trump.

In the statement, the officials call the move "unprecedented" and caution against using security clearances as a political tool. They describe Brennan as "an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual." The writers say they don't all agree with everything he's said, but, "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."

Brennan has repeatedly clashed with Trump on Twitter and on television, calling Trump's failure to denounce Russian interference in U.S. elections at a recent summit with Vladimir Putin "nothing short of treasonous."

The White House announced Thursday that it was revoking the former CIA director's clearance because of what press secretary Sarah Sanders called "unfounded and outrageous allegations."

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Trump later said that he stripped Brennan's clearance because of his role in investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt," Trump told the Wall Street Journal. "And these people led it."

The statement criticizing the White House's move is signed by top former officials who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Among them are former CIA Director William Webster, who was appointed to that post by President Ronald Reagan; Gen. David Petraeus, another former CIA director whom Trump had considered for a position in his own cabinet; and Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and NSA.

In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Hayden said the decision was purely political, and that the White House had revoked Brennan's clearance "as a punitive measure because the president did not like what John was saying about him."

Hayden warned the action will have a "chilling effect" on the entire intelligence community, "that if you disagree with the president, if you say things with which the president disagrees or he does not like, he is willing to take punitive action against you. And that has nothing to do with politics. That has everything to do with the freedom of American intelligence to be candid with the commander in chief."

The White House says it's also continuing to review the clearances of Hayden and other officials, many of whom have criticized the president.

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