(Reuters): Former CIA director John Brennan on Friday criticized as “disgraceful” President Donald Trump’s efforts to play down U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump’s administration has been dogged by investigations into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election and possible ties with his campaign team.
Speaking one day before his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg earlier this month, Trump said he suspected Russian interference in the election but that no one knows for sure. “These types of comments are just disgraceful … and the person who said them should be ashamed of himself,” said Brennan, CIA chief under former President Barack Obama, at the Aspen Security Forum.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and several U.S. congressional committees are investigating whether Russia interfered in the election and colluded with Trump’s campaign to try to swing the race in his favor over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Those probes are focused almost exclusively on Moscow’s actions, lawmakers and intelligence officials have said, and no evidence has surfaced publicly implicating other countries.
Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump has said that his campaign did not collude with Russia. Brennan said he was disappointed by the president’s handling of security issues in his first six months in office. “I must say there are disappointments that I see in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing on the international stage that I think pose serious questions about how he is keeping safe our national security,” Brennan said.
Speaking at the same event in Aspen, James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Obama, was also critical of Trump’s administration. Asked if Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, should have his security clearance canceled for initially failing to list on a disclosure form contacts he had with Russians, Clapper said it should be suspended pending a review.
“I do think the appropriate thing here is take a pause and at least suspend a clearance until you’ve had the opportunity to investigate and then decide whether the clearance should be restored or not,” Clapper told the same panel.
Brennan and Clapper also criticized Trump’s remarks in a tweet earlier this year about U.S. spy agencies in which he accused them of practices reminiscent of Nazi Germany. “That (tweet) was a terrible insulting affront not to me or John. We get paid the big bucks to take that. But I’m talking about the rank and file, the people in the trenches, men and women, the patriots in the intelligence community and that was completely inappropriate,” said Clapper.