MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Today President Trump took aim at one of his harshest critics. He revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. Here is White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reading from the president's statement.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.
KELLY: Well, here to talk about this move is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: That reference to wild outbursts on the Internet - that's a reference to John Brennan's Twitter feed.
MYRE: Indeed it is. He's only tweeted 51 times, but they've been very harsh and almost all of them directed at the president, including one just yesterday that begins, it's astounding how often you fail to live up to the minimum standards of decency, civility and probity. So you get the taste very quickly. And after the announcement today that his security clearance had been revoked, he went on MSNBC to respond. And we'll hear a little bit of that now.
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JOHN BRENNAN: I've seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats for many, many years during my CIA and national security career. I never ever thought that I would see it here in the United States.
MYRE: So there are many other former intelligence officials who have criticized the president but not in such harsh, personal terms as Brennan has repeatedly done.
KELLY: Yeah. I know from interviewing John Brennan myself and asking him about this, and he says, look; I don't think President Trump is fit to be president, and I've got a moral responsibility to speak out. Let me ask you this 'cause this is something a lot of people may not know. The president does have the authority. Singlehandedly, he can revoke a security clearance. It's happened before.
MYRE: Yes, it has happened before but not under these circumstances - in fact very different circumstances. It's never been as part of a personal dispute or for criticizing the president. It's been for a cause. Perhaps the most famous example about 15 years ago was a former national security adviser, Sandy Berger - after he left office, went to the National Archives and smuggled out some documents. So in these rare cases where it's happened, it's been for abusing the security clearance, not as some sort of personal dispute or feud.
KELLY: Why do former officials keep security clearances? I mean, John Brennan isn't running the CIA anymore. Why does he need a security clearance?
MYRE: Well, he doesn't absolutely need it, but he certainly has valuable experience. I mean, when he was replaced right as Trump came into office and named a new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, someone who had no experience in the national security community, he may have wanted to talk to John Brennan and speak about classified information. And Brennan could say, hey, you should do this; this is something you need to look at.
KELLY: So he needs to be read in in order to provide counsel.
MYRE: Absolutely. And in fact, Pompeo, while he was CIA director, said he had been in touch with the former chiefs who had held that job previously. In the military, we see that all the time. People leave the military. They may work for a defense contractor, and the information they have and want to continue to share is valuable to them as a - for their own career.
KELLY: John Brennan is not the - he's the only one who President Trump has yanked the clearance from today. But President Trump says there may be others.
MYRE: Yes. In his note, he mentioned nine officials, eight former and one current. So he went out of his way to list them by name, including some people like James Comey, the former FBI director who actually lost his security clearance when he left the job.
KELLY: And just briefly, John Brennan - we said he's one of the most prominent people speaking out. He's not the only one, and former officials seem to be doing this more and more.
MYRE: Yeah, they really have. It's a trend that's been going on I think post-9/11, and it certainly accelerated under Trump. Now, a lot of the officials say, we need to have a voice in these serious ongoing matters. And they're also feeling hurt personally by what the president has attacked - done and by attacking the intelligence community.
KELLY: All right, that is national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks, Greg.
MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.