Trump Admits He Revoked Brennan’s Security Clearance Over “Rigged Witch Hunt”

All it took for the White House’s James Comey story to collapse was a single TV appearance by Donald Trump. After the administration had sworn up and down that the former F.B.I. director was fired on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for mishandling the probe into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server, the president appeared on NBC and famously told Lester Holt, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘you know, this Russia thing . . . is a made-up story.’” Trump has since contradictedhis own words, denying that the Department of Justice’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election had anything to do with his decision to cut Comey loose.

Nevertheless, the incident is reportedly of critical interest to Robert Mueller as he seeks to determine whether the president obstructed justice. So it was with a strange sense of déjà vu that many read Trump’s Wednesday night interview with The Wall Street Journal,wherein he suggested that the security clearance of former C.I.A. director John Brennan was not revoked over fears that he would spill classified secrets on cable news, as the White House claimed, but because of the key role Brennan played in the beginning of the Russia probe. “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham. And these people led it!” Trump told the paper. “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

His tirade, of course, flies in the face of the White House’s purported reason for stripping Brennan of his clearance: during Wednesday’s briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read aloud a statement declaring that Brennan’s alleged “lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary” and “wild outbursts on the internet and television” prompted the unprecedented move, arguing that someone prone to making “unfounded and outrageous” claims in public should not have access to the country’s most closely held secrets. Putting aside the obvious irony, many were skeptical of this line of reasoning, including Brennan himself. “This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics,” he wrote on Twitter.

By what the White House would almost certainly argue is pure coincidence, much of Brennan’s “frenzied commentary” has been anti-Trump. Last month, the former intelligence chief was critical of Trump’s performance during the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, likening him to Bernie Madoff in that the two share a “remarkably unethical ability to to deceive & manipulate others.” More recently, Brennan chided Trump over his characterization of Omarosa Manigault Newman as “that dog.” “It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity,” he wrote in a widely shared tweet.

In fact, the White House’s list of those whose security clearances are under review—Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; former F.B.I. Director James Comey; former Director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden; former National Security Adviser Susan Rice; former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates; former Deputy Director of the F.B.I. Andrew McCabe; Peter Strzok, an F.B.I. agent who was fired over the weekend; former F.B.I. attorney__Lisa Page;__ and Bruce Ohr,who still works at the Justice Department but was demoted earlier this year—reads like a laundry list of people Trump views as his enemies. While speaking with the Journal, Trump suggested that any number of them could face the same retribution as Brennan. “I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” he said. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.” He also referenced the F.B.I.’s Clinton e-mail probe, in which a number of those whose security clearances are now under scrutiny were involved. “You look at any of them and you see the things they’ve done,” he said. “In some cases, they’ve lied before Congress. The Hillary Clinton whole investigation was a total sham.” (Comey and McCabe have said that their security badges were automatically demagnetized after they were fired.)

Some level of blame-shifting is to be expected from Trump, who has repeatedly sought to turn the “collusion” spotlight on Democrats and the Clinton campaign. But here he seems to be cementing a new strategy, a sort of feedback loop in which actions taken by his own administration serve as evidence that Mueller’s investigation should be shut down. After Deputy F.B.I. Director David Bowdich overruled the recommendation of Inspector General Michael Horowitz and ordered that Strzok be fired over a series of anti-Trump texts, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Strzok started the illegal Rigged Witch Hunt – why isn’t this so-called ‘probe’ ended immediately? Why aren’t these angry and conflicted Democrats instead looking at Crooked Hillary?” On Wednesday morning, foreshadowing the Brennan announcement, he expanded on this argument: “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he wrote. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds.”

The president, of course, has routinely cast the Russia probe as orchestrated by his political enemies, failing to acknowledge the continued threat Russian hackers pose to U.S. elections, not to mention the dozens of indictments Mueller has delivered. But Trump’s spin could prove to be the only thing that matters. While Republican leadership has repeatedly signaled that any move against Mueller would be met with Congressional opposition, stripping Brennan’s security clearance may have been a litmus test of sorts—in an interview with CNN Wednesday night, Clapper confirmed that Trump could do the same to Mueller, effectively hamstringing him: “The president does have the authority to exercise here if he so chooses,” Clapper said. Indeed, if the White House was holding its breath for Congressional uproar, it’s unlikely to arrive: though Paul Ryan said the president was merely “trolling” people when the White House first floated the idea of revoking security clearances last month, he has so far stayed quiet on Trump’s choice to follow through with the threat.

[Vanity Fair]

Trump revokes former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance

President Donald Trump has withdrawn ex-CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, in a move hitting one of the administration’s most vocal critics.

The action, announced Wednesday by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, appears to be more of a political than practical one. Brennan and most other prominent former White House officials do not use their clearances to consult with the Trump administration, and the move will not prevent them from speaking out publicly now.

In justifying pulling Brennan’s clearance, Sanders read a statement from Trump claiming that the former spy chief has shown “erratic conduct and behavior” and “has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.” She said the move was about “protecting classified information,” though she did not provide any examples of Brennan using his access to improperly leverage sensitive information since he left the CIA post. Sanders denied that the move was political.

“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 president said in the statement read by Sanders.

Sanders said the White House will also consider whether to revoke security clearances of other former high-ranking law enforcement and intelligence officials — all of whom have earned Trump’s ire in some way. Those are: former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, ex-NSA Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, ex-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.

Former top-ranking officials often keep their security clearances so that the White House can consult with them on important topics.

The announcement at least temporarily puts more scrutiny on Trump’s political opponents rather than the president himself. It comes amid repeated questions about nondisclosure agreements signed by former Trump campaign staffers brought about by accusations of racism and instability on Trump’s part brought by ex-administration official Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Brennan has frequently and pointedly criticized Trump since the president took office in January 2017. In a tweet on Tuesday responding to the president calling Manigault Newman a “dog,” Brennan wrote that “it’s astounding how often [Trump fails] to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility & probity.”

“Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation,” he wrote about the president.

On Tuesday night, he told MSNBC that “I think Donald Trump has badly sullied the reputation of the office of the presidency.”

In pulling Brennan’s clearance, the White House questioned his credibility in denying to Congress that the CIA “improperly accessed the computer files of congressional staffers.” Trump’s statement also claimed that Brennan showed inconsistency in telling Congress that the intelligence community did not use the so-called Steele dossier as part of its conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election.

Ohr is the only one of the people Sanders named at risk of losing a security clearance who currently works in the Trump administration. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the evaluation of his clearance.

Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that the president was “trolling people” with threats to pull their security clearances and noted that it falls under the executive branch’s purview.

Brennan had no immediate comment. The former CIA director who served during the Obama administration is a contributor to NBC News.

Other ex-intelligence and law enforcement officials criticized the move on Wednesday. Former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin called the security clearance removal “ridiculous.” He told MSNBC that he doubts “anyone in the White House has thought through” the action.

Clapper told CNN that “the larger issue here … has been in infringement on First Amendment rights.” All of the people Sanders named have “either been outspoken about the administration, or have directly run afoul of it. And taken actions that were inimical to President Trump’s interests.”

[CNBC]

White House: It’s ‘common’ for government employees to sign NDAs

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday would not say whether she’s signed a nondisclosure agreement since joining the Trump administration, but asserted it’s “common” for government employees to sign such documents.

“I’m not going get into the back and forth on who has signed an NDA here at the White House,” Sanders said at a press briefing when asked whether she’s signed such a document.

“I can tell you that it’s common in a lot of places for employees to sign NDAs, including in government, particularly anyone with a security clearance,” she added.

The question about requiring White House staffers to sign nondisclosure agreements has emerged as a point of contention as former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman has published a new book filled with explosive claims about her time on the Trump campaign and as an aide in the Trump administration.

In her book released Tuesday, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” Manigault Newman alleges President Trump is a racist, a misogynist and a narcissist, and claims he repeatedly used the N-word on the set of “The Apprentice.”

Trump has lashed out at Manigault Newman in response, calling her a “dog” and a “lowlife.

The Trump campaign escalated the president’s war with Manigault Newman earlier Tuesday when it filed for arbitration, alleging she violated a nondisclosure agreement.

The campaign claims that by publishing the book, Manigault Newman violated the terms of a 2016 confidentiality agreement she signed with the campaign.

Asked Tuesday why compelling Manigault Newman to defend herself and potentially pay damages is necessary, Sanders said she could not speak on behalf of the campaign. However, she re-asserted that it’s “very normal” to require staffers to sign NDAs, arguing that “this White House is certainly no different” from past administrations.

Manigault Newman has acknowledged she signed a confidentiality agreement with the 2016 campaign but has denied signing a similar agreement upon leaving the White House.

The White House has in recent days confirmed its practice of requiring West Wing staffers to sign nondisclosure agreements, despite concerns from watchdogs that such documents are unenforceable and uncommon for public employees.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed the existence of the agreements during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” defending them as needed to ensure privacy.

“We’ve all signed them in the West Wing,” she said. “We have confidentiality agreements in the West Wing, absolutely we do.  And why wouldn’t we?”

After Trump tweeted that Manigault Newman signed a nondisclosure agreement, the American Civil Liberties Union called the practice unconstitutional, saying Trump was attempting to “muzzle federal employees.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Requiring public employees and contractors to sign an SF312 security clearance is one thing, a non-disclosure agreement for all employees to silence critical speech is another and is clearly unconstitutional.

Trump Goes On Anti-Media Tweetstorm, Attacks Reporting He Says Puts Lives ‘At Risk’: ‘Very Unpatriotic!’

President Donald Trump is going on yet another Twitter tirade about the media, this time attacking certain reporting as “very unpatriotic!”

To recap: Trump tweeted this morning that he recently met with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and talked about the “fake news.” Sulzberger shot back by saying he specifically told the President he’s concerned about his “dangerous” attacks on the media.

Well, um, he’s still doing it (not that he ever stopped).

And not only that, but Trump is now accusing reporters of putting lives at risk by reporting on “internal deliberations of our government”:

You will also notice that Trump, hours after revealing his meeting with Sulzberger, is back to attacking the Times again.

The Times report on this meeting features Sulzberger making one very serious point to the President:

Mr. Sulzberger recalled telling Mr. Trump at one point that newspapers had begun posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. The president, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.

[Mediaite]

Trump aide Conway says media should show ‘more respect’ after White House bars reporter from event

Just hours after the White House banned a CNN reporter from attending a press event with President Donald Trump, adviser Kellyanne Conway on Thursday berated the news media, claiming that “shouting” and “pouting” reporters should show more “civility” and “respect” toward the administration.

When asked Thursday why Kaitlan Collins had been booted from a Rose Garden event a day earlier after she peppered the president with questions on Russia and Michael Cohen, Conway, counselor to Trump, responded that unruly reporters were to blame for the incident.

“I think that the question isn’t are the press allowed to ask questions, this president obviously isn’t afraid of questions. We answer them routinely,” she told reporters gathered on the White House lawn. “And that incident aside, just being polite to the process, to the presidency, to the protocol, and not shouting questions long after the press has politely been asked to leave, long after you’ve had opportunity to be there with the president, I think it’s a very reasonable request.”

“And that incident aside, I’m just speaking more broadly, the civility that you all call for sometimes when you’re in your broadcasts, I think it should start here at the White House, and just show a little bit more respect,” Conway continued.

“I think it’s the shouting and the pouting long after the press corps has been politely asked to leave the room,” she said.

Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive who Trump tapped earlier this month as his deputy chief of staff for communications, also weighed in, casting doubt on the way the incident had been portrayed in the news media and telling reporters to ask Collins if anyone from the White House had used the word “ban” when not allowing her in.

Collins had served as the network television “pool reporter” during an Oval Office photo op with Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday, meaning she was asking questions on behalf of several TV news organizations.

[NBC News]

Putin Tells Diplomats He Made Trump a New Offer on Ukraine at Their Summit

Vladimir Putin told Russian diplomats that he made a proposal to Donald Trump at their summit this week to hold a referendum to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it, according to two people who attended Putin’s closed-door speech on Thursday.

Details of what the two leaders discussed in their summit in Helsinki, Finland, remain scarce, with much of the description so far coming from Russia. While Putin portrayed the Ukraine offer as a sign he’s seeking to bring the four-year-old crisis to an end, a referendum is likely to be a hard sell with Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to an 2015 European-brokered truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If Putin’s account of Trump’s reaction is accurate, it would suggest a more flexible approach than the U.S. has shown to date on the issue. At the Helsinki meeting, Trump also agreed to consider a Putin request to question the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow over U.S. campaign-finance violations that critics say Trump should have dismissed outright.

Putin gave his latest account of the meeting during at a conference with top Russian ambassadors and officials at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing the president’s comments to the part of the session that was closed to the public. One of the people said that Trump had requested Putin not discuss the referendum idea at the press conference after the summit in order to give the U.S. leader time to mull it.

Referendum Proposal

Putin’s proposal would call for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status, the people said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the details of what Putin said about Ukraine at the summit, saying only, “Some new ideas were discussed. They will be worked on.”

On Twitter Thursday, Trump called the summit “a great success” and cited Ukraine among the areas discussed, without providing details.

Putin’s proposal will alarm Ukrainian officials after Trump last week appeared to leave open the possibility of recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which triggered the crisis that led to fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukraine has offered the areas autonomy under its rule and backs the deployment of international peacekeepers in the region.

The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the charge, though Ukraine has captured a number of Russian soldiers and weaponry on its territory.

Putin pointed to a 2014 referendum, which wasn’t internationally recognized, that was held in Crimea to justify Russia’s annexation at his press conference with Trump after the summit in Helsinki on Monday. “We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law,” he said. “This case is closed for Russia.”

‘Farce’ Votes

Leaders of so-called rebel republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence. The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the European Union, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.

Last year, Putin angered his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, by signing a decree recognizing passports and other documents issued by the separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have already declared the ruble their official currency.

If a referendum was held in rebel areas of eastern Ukraine, “the result would be the same as in Crimea,” which voted to join Russia, Igor Plotnitsky, who was then leader of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian state-run RIA Novosti news service in March last year.

[Bloomberg]

White House: Trump will consider letting Russia question investor, former ambassador

President Donald Trump will consider allowing Russian investigators to question U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others after President Vladimir Putin floated the idea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

“He said it was an interesting idea. He didn’t commit to anything,” Sanders said at the daily press briefing. “He wants to work with his team and determine if there’s any validity that would be helpful to the process…It was an idea they threw out.”

Later in the day, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the concept “absolutely absurd.”

“The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens, and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens — we do not stand by those assertions,” Nauert said.

In a joint press conference with Trump Monday, Putin proposed that the U.S. allow Russian officials to interview Americans in exchange for Russia allowing U.S. officials to interview Russians, such as the 12 people recently indicted for their role in hacking Democratic computer systems in 2016.

“This kind of effort should be a mutual one,” Putin said Monday. “We would expect that the Americans would reciprocate.”

The idea was “an incredible offer,” Trump said.

The Russian leader mentioned Browder, whom, he said, “we have an interest of questioning” over tax issues. Browder has been at odds with the Kremlin for years, including because of his advocacy for efforts to sanction Russians suspected of committing human rights violations.

On Tuesday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office released a wishlist of potential people to extradite, including members of the State and Homeland Security departments and members of the CIA. McFaul, a former ambassador who had strained relations with the Kremlin and has since said he was banned from traveling to Russia, was also included.

“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul tweeted Wednesday. “Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”

It would be an extraordinary step to allow Russian investigators access to current or former U.S. officials. Browder, though born in the U.S., is now a British citizen, so it is unclear how a deal involving him would work.

[Politico]

Trump sides with Russia against FBI at Helsinki summit

After face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote.

Mr Putin reiterated that Russia had never interfered in US affairs.

The two men held nearly two hours of closed-door talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to the allegations of meddling in the elections.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it should be,” he replied.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr Trump had sent the Kremlin a message of US “weakness”.

He tweeted: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”

Fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake – a staunch critic of President Trump – called his words “shameful”.

Some US politicians had called for the summit to be cancelled after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were indicted last week by US special counsel Robert Mueller, accused of hacking the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Speaking on Monday, President Putin offered to allow US investigators to visit Russia to question the officers.

He made it clear that, in return, Russia would want similar access to people in the US it suspects of criminal activity.

President Trump said Mr Putin had been “extremely strong and powerful in his denial” of any election meddling.

[BBC]

Trump Blames ‘U.S. Foolishness’ for Poor Relations With Russia

In the lead-up to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump took to Twitter Monday claiming U.S.-Russia relations have “NEVER been worse,” blaming the U.S. for damaging the bilateral relationship.

Amid an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump blamed “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” and what he called a “Rigged Witch Hunt” for worsening ties between the two countries.

Trump is due to meet one-on-one with Putin and interpreters in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, on Monday.

The meeting follows a tense NATO Summit last week, at which Trump antagonized U.S. allies by suggesting that other NATO countries weren’t contributing enough to defense spending.

The Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents Friday for hacking the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and state election systems, as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

[TIME]

Trump Dismisses Missed Deadline for Reuniting Migrant Families: The Solution is Come Here Legally

The Federal government is all but certain to miss Tuesday’s court-imposed deadline for reuniting migrant families (via Vox). But President Donald Trump is downplaying the blown deadline — and, in fact, pinning the blame on migrants.

Speaking outside the White House prior to leaving for the NATO summit in Brussels, the president sounded off against illegal immigration when asked about the missed deadline.

“I have a solution,” Trump said. “Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That’s the solution. Don’t come to our country illegally. Come like other people do, come legally.”

He added, “I’m saying this, very simply. We have laws. We have borders. Don’t come to our country illegally. It’s not a good thing.”

The president went on to again make the baseless, erroneous assertion that Democrats are advocating for open borders.

“Democrats want open borders and they don’t mind crime,” Trump said. “We want no crime and we want borders where borders mean something. All right? And, remember this, without borders, you do not have a country.”

[Mediaite]

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