UPDATE – Trump pulls ex-CIA director's security clearance

ADDS BRENNAN TWEET IN GRAFS 5-6, REMOVES OTHER BRENNAN TWEETS

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance Wednesday amid concern the president may be cracking down on former officials critical of him.

Brennan has long been at loggerheads with Trump and was among a handful of former officials whose clearances the White House said in July were under review.

The former top spy has been at the forefront of public criticism from former officials along with ex-FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump unceremoniously ousted in 2017.

"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," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters as she read out a statement from Trump.

Brennan, who criticized Trump's performance at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin as "nothing short of treasonous," lashed out at Trump's decision on Twitter, calling it "part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics”.

"It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent," Brennan said.

In addition to Brennan and Comey, Sanders said the administration is reviewing the clearances of a handful of other former officials. They include Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, Justice Department official Sally Yates, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

All of the officials have been publicly critical of Trump and his administration's policies. But Sanders denied the president is going after his critics.

"The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it, and that's what he's doing," she said.

Most former top officials are allowed to keep their security clearances, which allow them to access classified information, at least for a time after leaving office, in part to allow them to assist their successors and as a courtesy.

Sanders acknowledged the fact but said "any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.

"That conduct and behavior has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him," she said.

Shortly after the announcement, Clapper, the former national intelligence director whose clearance is also under review, told CNN Trump's action is "unprecedented".

"I don't know of a case where this has ever been done in the past," Clapper said. "Access to clearances normally would be done completely by a sponsoring agency. So in John's case, the sponsoring agency is the CIA. And normally if there was going to be an action taken like this, it would be done at that level and not by the White House, or not by the president himself."

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