White House Blocks CIA Director From Briefing Senate on Khashoggi Murder

President Donald Trump‘s White House will prevent CIA director Gina Haspel or any other intelligence official from briefing the Senate on conclusions reached by the U.S. government regarding the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a new report by The Guardian.

Khashoggi disappeared and was brutally murdered nearly two months ago after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Senators expected to hear on Wednesday from Haspel, who traveled to Istanbul during the investigation, reportedly heard audio tapes of Khashoggi’s murder and briefed Trump upon her return one month ago.

Instead, they will be briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“On a national security issue of such importance, it would be customary for a senior intelligence official to take part,” Guardian reporter Julian Borger wrote. “Officials made it clear that the decision for Haspel not to appear in front of the committee came from the White House.”

A Senate staffer told Borger, “there is always an intel person there for a briefing like this” and that “it is totally unprecedented and should be interpreted as nothing less than the Trump administration trying to silence the intelligence community.”

The CIA has reportedly concluded with high level of confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of the dissident journalist.

President Trump, however, has been increasingly reluctant to accept the verdict of his own intelligence community.

“They didn’t conclude,” Trump insisted last week during a pool spray at Mar-a-Lago. “No no, they didn’t conclude. I’m sorry. No they didn’t conclude. They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways… I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it.”

[Mediaite]

Trump disputes CIA findings in Khashoggi killing, says too much at stake to punish ally

Responding to questions about Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that the U.S. can’t afford to punish foreign nations for killing people.

“Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” he said. “And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t be able to have anybody who’s an ally, because look at what happens all over the world.”

NBC and other outlets have reported that the CIA recently determined, reportedly with “high confidence,” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in early October.

Trump rejected that characterization in an exchange with reporters in Palm Beach, Fla., where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort, but said the American relationship with Riyadh wouldn’t be affected even if the crown prince is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently,” Trump said. “The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.”

The aftermath of the killing bothered him, he said, but he argued the CIA gave him conflicting information about the act.

“I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this, the crown prince hates it more than I do,” he said. “And they have vehemently deny it. The CIA points it both ways. As I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I will say very strongly that it’s a very important ally.”

By design, intelligence community analyses don’t reach conclusions. Instead, analysts provide evidence and a degree of confidence about their judgments, along with information about any uncertainties.

After Trump tweeted a statement of support for Saudi rulers Wednesday, Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan slammed Trump in an op-ed.

“A clear and dangerous message has been sent to tyrants around the world: Flash enough money in front of the president of the United States, and you can literally get away with murder,” Ryan wrote.

Pressed Thursday on whether his message to foreign leaders is that they can act with impunity, Trump said “no.”

“Not at all,” he said. ” Saudi Arabia has been a longtime strategic partner. They’re investing hundreds of billions of dollars in our country. I mean hundreds of billions. They’re keeping the oil prices low.”

The U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis does not report figures for Saudi Arabia’s direct investment in the U.S. to avoid revealing information about specific companies. While overall data is not available, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative reports that “Saudi Arabia’s direct investment in the U.S. is led by real estate, information services, and retail trade.”

Financial transactions between the two countries amounted to a negative number in 2017 — about $161 million in Riyadh’s favor — according to BEA.

Saudi Arabia spent about $9 billion on U.S. arms between 2013 and 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, but Trump has said erroneously that Saudi rulers are ready to spend many multiples of that in the coming years — up to $450 billion in goods, including $110 billion in military equipment. Saudi Arabia’s annual gross domestic product has been below $700 billion in each of the last three years.

[NBC News]

Trump, When Asked Why He Sided With Saudi Arabia Over CIA: ‘Because It’s America First!

President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter on Tuesday why he sided with Saudi Arabia over his own intelligence agencies regarding who is responsible for the murder or Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump issued a bizarre statement on Tuesday announcing the U.S. would stand by Saudi Arabia regardless of whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of the Washington Post writer in Turkey, as the CIA has reportedly concluded.

“It’s a shame, but it is what it is,” Trump told reporters as he made his way from Washington D.C. to his Mar-a-Lago resort for Thanksgiving.

“Why are you siding with Saudi Arabia over your own intelligence community?” a reporter asked.

“Because it’s America First,” Trump replied. “It’s all about American First. We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders, and let Russia and China have them.”

(The Washington Post called Trump’s claims about the jobs and revenue created by Saudi investment in the U.S. a “fantasy” in their report on his statement.)

“We are with Saudi Arabia, we’re staying with Saudi Arabia,” Trump added.

Trump’s statement drew criticism for its apparent defense of Saudi Arabia’s actions and questioning of its leader’s culpability in the gruesome murder of a dissident who resided in the United States.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump wrote in his statement. “That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”

[Mediaite]

Trump considered revoking Obama’s security clearance last year but was talked out of it by McMaster.

At the time, some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in the White House saw former Obama Administration officials as powerful enemies who threatened the new President’s rule, and they agitated for punishing them by revoking their security clearances. The idea was rebuffed by the national-security adviser at the time, H. R. McMaster, who signed a memo extending the clearances of his predecessors at the N.S.C., Republicans and Democrats alike. As Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama, some of the new President’s advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors. Trump was told about the importance of keeping former Presidents, who frequently met with foreign leaders, informed. In the end, Trump decided not to exclude Obama, at the urging of McMaster.

[The New Yorker]

Trump Dares John Brennan to Sue: ‘Worst CIA Director’ Will Have to Reveal Texts, Emails and Documents

President Donald Trump tweeted once again about former CIA director John Brennan after revoking his security clearance.

Trump went on to say that Brennan is a “political ‘hack’”:

Brennan has been extremely vocal in his criticism of Trump, even before his security clearance was revoked. Several former White House officials who have criticized the Trump administration have had their security clearance taken from them in the past few weeks, raising concern that Trump is looking to silence his political enemies.

[Mediaite]

Trump Boasts: I Gave John Brennan a ‘Bigger Voice’ by Removing His Security Clearance

In light of President Donald Trump revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, reporters asked the president today whether or not the move was part of an effort to “silence” one of his critics. Trump, in response, argued that he has — in fact — amplified Brennan, not stifled him.

“There’s no silence, if anything I’m giving him a bigger voice,” Trump said while outside the White House. “Many people don’t even know who he is. And now he has a bigger voice. And that’s okay with me, because I like talking on bigger voices like that.”

He continued:

“I’ve never respected him or I’ve never had a lot of respect. And Senator Burr said it best, ‘If you knew anything, why didn’t you report it when you were before all these committees?’ Including their committee. He had a chance to report. He never did. This was just — it just came up lately and it’s a disgusting thing, frankly. Look, I say it, I say it again. That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt. It is a totally rigged deal.”

Earlier in the press scrum, Trump told reporters that he’s “gotten tremendous response from having done that because security clearances are very important to me, very, very important.”

After teasing the idea earlier this month, Trump announced on Wednesday that Brennan’s clearance had officially been dropped — which was his way of getting back at former high ranking officials who have publicly taken to criticizing the Trump administration.

[Mediaite]

Trump Quotes Tucker Carlson to Call John Brennan Dumb, Sen. Blumenthal a ‘Fake War Hero’

At the start of his Fox News show Thursday night, host Tucker Carlsontook a swing at former CIA director John Brennan.

Then, Trump tweeted out what he said, adding in a jab at Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

“Tucker Carlson speaking of John Brennan: ‘How did somebody so obviously limited intellectually get to be CIA Director in the first place?’ Now that is a really good question! Then followed by ‘Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is a FAKE War Hero…’” Trump wrote, before adding his own, “So true, a total Fake!”

Adding his own spin, Trump followed up by tweeting out this, slamming Blumenthal.

Trump tweeting out Fox News quotes in real-time is also becoming a bit of a habit for POTUS.

Just last night, Trump quoted Dan Bongino, Joe diGenova, Mark Levin, and even Sean Hannity shortly after they said things that bolster his views on the air.

[Mediaite]

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 Goes on Tweetstorm While Watching Fox News, Quotes Hannity and Mark Levin

President Donald Trump took to Twitter Wednesday evening to share criticism about ex-CIA director John Brennan that he heard on Fox News.

“’John Brennan is a stain on the Country, we deserve better than this.’” Former Secret Service Agent and author of new book, ‘Spygate, the Attempted Sabotage of Donald J. Trump,’ Dan Bongino,” Trump wrote, referring to the conservative commentator and frequent Fox News guest.

He added: “Thank you Dan, and good luck with the book!”

Bongino’s comments came during a discussion of Trump’s decision to yank Brennan’s security clearance just one day after Brennan criticized him on both Twitter and MSNBC citing Brennan’s “erratic behavior.”

Speaking to the Wall Street Journalearlier today, Trump pushed back on criticism of his decision, telling the WSJ, “[I] would put a Republican on, too, if I thought they were incompetent or crazy.”

Brennan also spoke out on Trump’s decision, calling Trump’s move an effort to “intimidate and suppress” his critics.

“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 on Wednesday afternoon, after learning he had lost his clearance. “And revoking my security clearances is his way of trying to get back at me.”

In addition to using a Fox News quote to slam Brennan, Trump also tweeted out a remark from a Fox News guest who said Hillary Clinton “got a pass by the FBI.”

Then, later on Wednesday evening, he even tweeted quotes from Sean Hannity‘s show from Mark Levin and Hannity himself. Hannity said, “I’d strip the whole bunch of them. They’re all corrupt. They’ve all abused their power. They’ve all betrayed the American people with a political agenda.”

[Mediaite]

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]

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