At least 13 former senior intelligence officials in a joint statement on Friday blasted President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE for his decision to revoke former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Still in the game: Will Durham's report throw a slow curveball at key political players? UFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly MORE’s security clearance — and for his warnings that other former officials could meet the same fate.
“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” they write, according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Hill.
The officials said they issued the statement because they felt compelled to respond to the president's “ill-considered” remarks and actions.
“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” the statement continues, calling the president’s move this week a “signal to other former and current officials.”
The signatures include 12 former CIA directors and deputy directors, as well as one former director of national intelligence. The tenures of the former CIA chiefs who signed the statement span across every administration starting in 1987.
CNN reported Friday that former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who served during the Obama administration, and former Deputy CIA Director Bert Calland also added their names to the list.
A source familiar with the matter told The Hill on Friday that another letter is circulating among former officials who held agency positions below the role of deputy director, another sign of pushback.
Two of the signatories of the statement, Hayden and Clapper, are among those whose security clearances are under review by the White House, according to a list read by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday. Like Brennan, both men have fiercely criticized the president.
Hayden, who served as the head of the CIA under during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, has become a prominent opponent of the Trump White House.
From warning officials not to work for the Trump administration to questions about the president’s mental stability, Hayden’s caustic remarks appear to have captured the attention of the White House.
Clapper, who served as director of national intelligence during the Obama administration, has similarly emerged as one Trump’s vocal detractors on cable news.
Clapper became a target of the president’s ire earlier this year over the controversy that Trump has dubbed “Spygate.” The president and his allies were seeking to learn more information about an FBI informant who reportedly met with a handful of Trump campaign aides during the 2016 presidential race.
Clapper maintained that the source did not infiltrate Trump’s campaign for political purposes. Clapper said the FBI was conducting surveillance on the Russians, but the president twisted his words to claim the government was spying on his campaign.
“Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE — a terrible thing!” Trump tweeted in late May.
Gates, who served as the CIA director under former President George H.W. Bush and Defense secretary to both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, signed on as well. His criticism against the White House has been neither as frequent nor as fiery as some of the other former officials, but he hasn’t been afraid to take a few public punches.
During the 2016 campaign, Gates wrote a scathing opinion piece where he hit Trump as “being beyond” repair, but he also criticized Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE for her “much-discussed credibility” issues.
“A thin-skinned, temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip and lip, uninformed commander-in-chief is too great a risk for America,” Gates wrote in The Wall Street Journal in September 2016, weeks before Election Day.
Gates’s career in the national security apparatus spans multiple decades, first joining the CIA as a analyst in 1966.
Like Gates, several officials on the statement also worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations as agency heads, including Tenet, who formerly lead the CIA during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Panetta served as President Clinton's chief of staff before becoming the CIA director in the Obama administration.
Gen. David Petraeus, the latest former CIA chief to sign on to the statement, served during the Obama administration after an extensive career in the U.S. Army. He resigned after about a year into his role as CIA chief, citing personal reasons and admitting to an extramarital affair.
Webster served as the director of the CIA during part of the Reagan administration. He is the predecessor to all the other CIA chiefs who signed on to the remarks.
“Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views,” the statement reads.
Trump, however, pushed back on this notion on Friday, claiming he is actually giving his critics a bigger platform.
“I'm giving them a bigger voice ... and that's OK with me because I like taking on voices like that,” the president said, adding he has “never respected” Brennan.
The president's comments come two days after he revoked Brennan’s security clearance, a move he says is tied to the CIA chief’s involvement in the Russia probe.
“I say it, I say it again: That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt,” Trump told reporters, referring to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's investigation into Russian election interference. “It's a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side.”
While the administration faced powerful blowback from the intelligence community and Democrats for his Brennan move, Trump appears undeterred.
He told reporters Friday that he is expecting to revoke the security clearance of Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official who has come under increasing GOP fire for his ties to the controversial Steele dossier.