(Reuters) – More than 175 former State Department and Pentagon officials added their names to a statement signed by national security officials criticizing President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan.
FILE PHOTO: Former CIA director John Brennan is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee to take questions on “Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
New signatories to the statement, which was initially issued last week by 15 former directors and deputy chiefs of the CIA and Office of Director of National Intelligence, include former political appointees and career civil servants. They worked under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
Among the most prominent individuals to sign a new version of the statement released on Monday by senior officials from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are former State Department and National Security Counsel lawyer John Bellinger, former Deputy Secretaries of State Anthony Blinken and William Burns, former Undersecretaries of State Nicholas Burns, Wendy Sherman and Thomas Pickering.
Also, former National Security Agency general counsel Robert Deitz, former National Counterterrorism Center directors Michael Leiter and Nick Rasmussen, former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and former NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis.
While those signing may not agree with all of Brennan’s public attacks on Trump, the statement reads, they believe that “the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied” before expert former officials are allowed to voice their views.
Trump said last week he was considering withdrawing clearances for other former high-ranking officials as well as Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official in the criminal division.
Brennan, who has publicly characterized Trump’s comments at a recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “treasonous,” has said he might sue the Trump administration over the revocation of his clearance.
“I am going to do whatever I can to try to prevent these abuses in the future, and if it means going to court, I will do that,” he said on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” television program.
On Monday Trump blasted the new individuals who signed and said that while he hopes Brennan files a lawsuit, he doubted that would happen. He also questioned whether U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from his department’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, would fire Ohr.
Russia has denied any election interference, and Trump has said there was no collusion with his campaign team.
“Everybody wants to keep their Security Clearance, it’s worth great prestige and big dollars, even board seats, and that is why certain people are coming forward to protect Brennan,” Trump said in a series of posts on Twitter.
Retired Navy Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEALs operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, last week responded to Trump’s move by praising Brennan and asking the president to revoke his security clearance as well.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe