What was it the White House accused him of the other day?
You can disagree with the sentence, i.e. revoking his clearance, but there’s no disputing that verdict. Here he was last month:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
He dropped by Rachel Maddow’s show on Friday night and she asked him about that. “Treasonous” is a strong term! Yeah … a little too strong, said Brennan:
“I didn’t mean that he committed treason,” he said, smiling sheepishly. What? He … used the constitutional definition, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” in his tweet. (“Sometimes my Irish comes out, in my tweets…” he went on to say.)
Maddow was taken aback, as you can see in the clip. “Treason” isn’t a term to be lobbed idly at a political enemy but if you’re going to do it you need to own it, especially if you’ve just been granted Resistance martyrdom status by Trump. Literally the last thing Brennan’s cheering section wants to hear right now is “On second thought, I didn’t mean to say he’d committed treason-treason.”
So today, on “Meet the Press,” he walked back the walkback. It may not be treason-treason, but it’s treason, damn it. Via Mediaite:
“Do you think that John Brennan’s hyperbole is an issue here, is one of the reasons we’re having this crisis?” Tapper asked
“I think it is,” Clapper said. “I think John is sort of like a freight train, and he’s going to say what’s on his mind. I think, though, that the common denominator among all of us that have been speaking up, though, is genuine concern about the jeopardy or threats to our institutions and values, although we may all express that in different ways, and I think this is what this is really about. But I think John and his rhetoric have become an issue in and of itself.”
The nastier Brennan gets, the easier it is for Trump to use him as Exhibit A in his case that the “deep state” is out to get him. Eli Lake wrote a smart column about that the other day, arguing that by no means is Trump trying to “silence” Brennan. (Private-sector workers whose careers depend on maintaining their clearances might be silenced by what happened to Brennan, but Brennan himself won’t be.) Rather, says Lake, Trump is trying to elevate Brennan as an enemy. He’s a useful foil for POTUS thanks to his track record of errors and duplicity, including lying to Congress. Trump can make him the poster boy for a deeply politicized, deeply ethically compromised intelligence bureaucracy that’s desperate to bring down a president they loathe. Brennan seems strangely eager to play the part. No wonder Clapper and others are starting to side-eye each other about him.
The newsy part of his interview this morning, by the way, was when he told Chuck Todd that he’s inclined to sue Trump over the revoked security clearance. It’s not that I need it, says Brennan, it’s that I want to stop him from doing this to other people who might need their own clearances. He’ll probably lose the case but I’m curious to see how the courts handle the underlying question: Is the president’s power over national security so great that he can overtly discriminate based on political viewpoint in granting natsec privileges? Stay tuned.