WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump experienced an unprecedented indignation of former intelligence officials on Friday after deleting the security clearance from former CIA director John Brennan, but Trump defended his decision and said he had planned a new one shortly.
The twofold group, including Robert Gates, George Tenet, David Petraeus, James Clapper and Leon Panetta, reached out to the president in a scathing letter that was released late on Thursday. On Friday evening another 60 former intelligence officers added their votes to their own letter.
Brennan, a former official in the Obama administration and sharp critic of Trump, has said he will not be deterred by removing his security clearance. Brennan described the actions of Trump at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month as treacherous.
In an interview on MSNBC on Friday night, Brennan did not appeal to his criticism of Trump's behavior as president, but in July he said his behavior in Helsinki is nothing less than treacherous & # 39; used to be.  "I did not mean that he was betraying, but it was a term I used," nothing less than treacherous, "" Brennan said in the interview.
Trump defended his decision and announced on Wednesday that it had elevated the former CIA chief instead of blocking his freedom of expression.
The president also told reporters that he would probably withdraw the statement from Bruce Ohr, a Ministry of Justice official linked to a file on the Trump and Russia campaign put together by former British spy Christopher Steele .
Trump rejoined Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a study into possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Moscow. Without evidence or evidence, Trump said that Mueller had conflicts of interest.
In the statement published late on Thursday, officials who served under Republican and Democratic officials said they did not necessarily agree with Brennan's harsh criticism of the president, but that security authorizations should be based on national security, not on politics.
"We all agree that the action of the President regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not make safety declarations – and make everything with an attempt to suppress freedom of speech, "said former CIA directors, deputy directors and directors of national intelligence services.
"We have never seen the approval or removal of security clearances that were used as a political tool," they wrote.
Petraeus, one of the signatories, was once considered by Trump to be a candidate for the Foreign Minister .
Like the signatories of the first letter, the 60 former CIA officers said they disagree with Brennan's opinion: "We are firmly convinced that the country will be weakened if a political litmus test is carried out before being seasoned experts can share their opinion. "
The second group consisted of Henry Crumpton, who also served as the main anti-terrorism officer of the State Department and Letitia Long, a former head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which oversees the army satellites used for intelligence gathering, navigation and communication.
In another backlash against the president, retired navy admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, praised Brennan and asked Trump to withdraw his own security clearance, writing in a Washington opinion article Post that he would "consider it an honor."
Trump challenged the suggestion that he tried to silence critics by removing security licenses.
"There is no silence, if there is anything I give them a bigger voice," Trump said
"Many people do not even know who (Brennan) is, and now he has a bigger voice . And that's OK for me, because I like to accept such voices. I never respected him. "
The White House said it was studying a list of other persons for an overview of the security investigations, and Trump suggested that Ohr was at the top of that list.
" I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace, "he said. "I suspect I will take it away soon."
Ohr, who works in the criminal department of the Ministry of Justice, had contact with Steele, the former British spy who compiled a case of allegations of possible collusion between the Trump and Russia camp during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Russia denies having interfere with the 2016 elections, but three US intelligence services reported in January 2017 that Moscow had intervened and attempted to help Trump the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Putin told reporters in Helsinki, standing next to Trump, that he was the forerunner Alige businessman in New York had wanted to win the White House.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; adaptation by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler