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US ex-spymaster says Trump colluded with Russia

Updated August 17, 2018


WASHINGTON: In a searing opinion article published in The New York Times on Thursday, ex-CIA director John Brennan said Trump’s decision to remove his security clearance was politically motivated.

America’s former top spy has alleged he was stripped of his security clearance in a bid by President Donald Trump to scare critics and stymie an investigation into ties with Russia.

“Mr Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him,” said Brennan, seeing “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.”

Brennan, who was until January 2017 the guardian of America’s most closely held secrets, stridently dismissed Trump’s claims that his campaign did not work with Russia to win the 2016 election.

“Mr Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash,” he said.

“The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of ‘Trump Incorporated’ attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.”

Even by the standards of angry Trump-era criticism, Brennan’s words represent an unprecedented attack by America’s normally hush-hush spooks on a political leader.

The Republican president said in a statement on Wednesday that he revoked Brennan’s authorisation for making what he called “unfounded and outrageous allegations” about his administration and was evaluating whether to strip clearances from other former top officials.

Brennan and the others have been critical of the president.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Trump said in an interview on Wednesday. “And these people led it.”

“It’s something that had to be done,” Trump added. The president has denied any collusion. Russia has said it did not interfere, contrary to the US intelligence community’s findings.

Former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, another critic whose clearance Trump said he might target, cautioned that Brennan was expressing “an informed opinion”.

It remained up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe, to make a final conclusion, Clapper said.

“There needs to be an official determination made about this, and that, I think, can only be done by the Mueller investigation,” Clapper told CNN on Thursday.

Mueller has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including Russian intelligence officials and former Trump aides.

High-ranking government officials sometimes retain security clearances after leaving office to advise their successors as needed, and some private sector companies can also require them. Former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, among others, could also see their clearances revoked.

Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official currently in the criminal division, was also on the White House list.

“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

Brennan is not facing any formal charges of violating any regulations or laws. He has frequently criticised the president on television news shows and in blistering tweets that Trump on Wednesday called “wild outbursts”.

Reactions from Republican lawmakers were mixed, with some critical of Trump while others blamed Brennan for acting inappropriately.

Democratic lawmakers blasted the president’s move as dangerous. US Representative Joaquin Castro said Mueller should also investigate the issue now that Trump tied it to the Russia probe.

“It’s an abuse of power because he’s not doing it for a legitimate reason,” Castro told CNN.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2018