Sen. John Kennedy defended President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke John Brennan’s security clearance and called the former CIA director a “butthead” who doesn’t need the clearance.
“I think most Americans look at our national intelligence experts as being above politics. Mr. Brennan has demonstrated that that’s not the case. He’s been totally political. I think I called him a ‘butthead’ and I meant it. I think he’s given the national intelligence community a bad name,” the Louisiana Republican told CNN’s Manu Raju in an interview Wednesday.
Kennedy added, “I don’t see why he would need a security clearance, I really don’t.”
Sen. Richard Shelby on Wednesday similarly downplayed the President’s decision and questioned why former high-ranking officials would maintain security clearances once they have left government service.
“When I leave here, I’ll be a private citizen. I won’t be a US senator. So I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t know why they give them security clearances anyway other than maybe a transition period … but not in perpetuity,” the Alabama Republican told CNN.
In a statement read in the White House briefing room by press secretary Sarah Sanders, the President explained his decision by saying, “Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets.”
Brennan is the first former national security official to have his security clearance revoked after the White House announced last month that Trump was considering taking that action against several of his most vocal critics in the national security world.
The former CIA director criticized the news Wednesday on Twitter, calling it “part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics,” and saying it “should gravely worry all Americans.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said on Wednesday that while Brennan has been “far too political in his statements … unless there was a disclosure of classified information of which I’m unaware, I don’t see the grounds for revoking his security clearance.”
When asked if the action set a bad precedent, Collins said, “I think it’s unwise because generally recently retired national security officials have a lot to contribute.”
Democratic lawmakers, in contrast, were quick to criticize the President’s action.
Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the move, “to me, smacks of Nixonian-type practices of trying to silence anyone who is willing to criticize this President.”
“There would be nothing this White House would do that would surprise me at this point,” Warner said when asked if he believes the administration will go after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. “This White House clearly is under siege and will stop at nothing to try to divert people’s attention.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat who’s a member of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, said he believes the revocation is “definitely an abuse of power” and that there’s an argument “it violates the First Amendment rights” of the former CIA director.
“It’s government taking action through the President against political speech, and political speech is among the most protected speech under First Amendment law,” Castro told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
Rep. Don Beyer told Scuitto on “The Situation Room” that he views revoking the security clearance as a “a striking move toward authoritarianism.”
The Virginia Democrat said, “This is what dictators do. They shut down the press. They shut down dissent. They jail their opponents or in this case they steal their security clearances.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.