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Brennan fires back at Trump: 'I will not relent'

The Hill logo The Hill 8/15/2018 Jordan Fabian and Morgan Chalfant
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Former CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday blasted President Trump's decision to revoke his security clearance as an "abuse of power" intended to punish him for his vocal criticism of the president.

"I do believe that Mr. Trump decided to take this action, as he's done with others, to try to intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration," Brennan said during an interview on MSNBC.

Brennan said Trump's decision will not stop him from speaking out.

"If Mr. Trump believes this going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken," said Brennan, who led the nation's top spy agency under President Obama.

But Brennan said he feared the revocation sends "a very chilling message" to the national security community about silencing dissent, whether it is made in public or in private.

Brennan's comments came just hours after the White House announced Trump has revoked his clearance, arguing his "frenzied commentary" and "erratic conduct and behavior" poses a security threat.

John O. Brennan wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Hill "Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos," Trump said in the statement read by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sanders denied that the move was intended to silence an outspoken critic of the administration.

Brennan said he first learned his clearance had been pulled when a friend called to alert him to Sanders's comments during Wednesday's press briefing.

He first responded on Twitter, rebutting Sanders's claim by describing Trump's decision as a "politically motivated" effort by the president to crack down on his detractors and insisting he would "not relent" in his criticism of the president.

The former spy chief later suggested on MSNBC that Trump is lashing out at him because he is feeling pressure from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is facing criminal charges stemming from the probe, and his trial is reaching its conclusion.

Trump has increasingly waged against Mueller's probe, casting it as a "witch hunt" and urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut it down.

"Clearly I think Mr. Trump is getting more and more concerned, more and more desperate, more and more frightened," Brennan said, adding that Trump's criticism of Mueller is "reprehensible."

"I think he fears individuals who could damage him, who could damage his standing among the American people," he added. "Look at the way he is talking about Bob Mueller, who is a national treasure, an icon within the law enforcement and justice communities, who is doing his level best to investigate Russian interference in the election."

The White House also said that Trump is considering revoking security clearances of other former officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and Peter Strzok, the ex-FBI agent who was fired by the bureau on Monday after an inspector general investigation revealed he text messages critical of the president during the presidential election.

The president is also reviewing the clearance of Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who has become the target of House Republicans in their investigation into the controversial Steele dossier. Brennan indicated Wednesday he was particularly disturbed by that detail, given that Ohr, unlike the others, still works in the government.

"Is this an effort to try to cow individuals both inside and outside the government to make sure they don't say anything that either is critical of Mr. Trump or with which he disagrees?" Brennan asked.

-Avery Anapol contributed. Updated at 5:38 p.m.

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