John Brennan, former CIA director, talks with Rachel Maddow about his criticisms of Donald Trump and his early awareness of Russian efforts to intrude upon the 2016 presidential election. He also asked Republicans when are they going to say "enough is enough" to Trump.
"I think he's out of control," Brennan said. "He is, has the steering wheel of the American vehicle in his hands. And he's veering wildly right now. He's trying to preserve and protect himself. And, so, what more demonstration do you want some when things get really, really bad? I’m glad that if his revoking my security clearance is going to wake some people up. Look at all the people who have come and spoken out. You know, the icons of a national security intelligence community over the past several decades saying enough is enough."
"So, when are the members of Congress and the Republican Party going to say enough is enough?" he asked.
Brennan wondered if there is "corrupt intent" behind the decision to revoke his clearance and if Trump is doing it to obstruct justice. Brennan said Trump is "drunk on power."
"I think this is a thing that lawyers and courts and others are going to be looking at in terms of whether Mr. Trump is going to be doing any of this to obstruct justice or try to silence critics, whatever. But the fact that he's using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly, don't want to use this term maybe, but he's drunk on power. He really is. And I think he's abusing the powers of that office," he said.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Joining us, once again, for his first sit down interview since President Trump revoked his security clearance in an unprecedented move this week is former CIA Director John Brennan.
Director Brennan, thank you, again, for being here.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Sure.
MADDOW: I want to ask you about this breaking news we had tonight from "Washington Post." you can see the headline here White House drafts more clearance cancellations demanded by Trump. I will just read you the lead.
The White House has drafted documents revoking security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or for playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration officials. Trump wants to sign, quote, most, if not all of them, said one senior White House official who indicated that communication aides including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the new deputy chief of staff, they have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.
Here's the part about you. The senior White House official acknowledged that the step taken this week against John Brennan had been prepared in late July when Sanders first said Trump was considering it. But the decision to take that step was made this week to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman. Consideration is being given to holding other prepared documents in reserve for similar opportunities in the future.
Do you have any reaction to learning that that, according to a White House official, is why the president took this action against you this week?
BRENNAN: No, other than this is just another demonstration of his irresponsibility in terms of holding that office. Just because he has these authorities, and he does -- he can revoke, you know, and he has revoked my clearances and others, and just the way he can give pardons out. But -- and I’m not a lawyer, but I know there is a question about whether or not there is corrupt intent terms of doing this.
And so, I think this is a thing that lawyers and courts and others are going to be looking at in terms of whether Mr. Trump is going to be doing any of this to obstruct justice or try to silence critics, whatever. But the fact that he's using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly, don't want to use this term maybe, but he's drunk on power. He really is. And I think he's abusing the powers of that office.
I think right now this country is in a crisis in terms of what Mr. Trump has done and is liable to do. And so, are the Republicans on the Hill who have given him a pass, are they going to wait for a disaster to happen before they actually find their back bones and spines to speak up against somebody who clearly, clearly is not carrying out his responsibilities with any sense of purpose and common sense from the stand point of a national security?
MADDOW: When you raised that kind of prospect, what kind are you envisaging?
BRENNAN: I don’t know. I mean, look, we’re just tossing around these things right now. What happens if he wants to do something on the foreign front in terms of some type of military adventure? You know, the wag-the-dog scenario as a way to distract attention, as things get increasingly tough for him and the waters get choppier, how desperate is he going to become? What else is he going to do in order to distract attention?
And so, I really am quite surprised and very disappointed in many of the Republican members of Congress. A lot of them who I know well and respect, but for whatever reason, they are turning a blind eye and making excuses for someone who doesn't deserve to be given this type of leash with the authorities of the office of the presidency.
MADDOW: The authority that he is exerting here is, again, an untested one because the president -- no president has ever been known to use a security clearance like a weapon this way, the revocation of a security clearance this way. One of the other things that’s discussed in the breaking news from "The Washington Post" tonight is that there’s particular concern expressed even within the White House about the president's statement today that he intends very quickly to strip the clearance of a current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
Some people have suggested that depending on Mr. Ohr’s actual job is at the Justice Department right now, stripping his security clearance might actually effectively be a way of firing him, if he needs a security clearance to do his job.
BRENNAN: Absolutely. It would be.
MADDOW: Is the president exercising a new authority here to essentially fire people, disable people from being able to do their jobs, even if he's constitutionally unable to fire that official?
BRENNAN: I think he's out of control. He is, has the steering wheel of the American vehicle in his hands. And he's veering wildly right now. He's trying to preserve and protect himself.
And, so, what more demonstration do you want some when things get really, really bad? I’m glad that if his revoking my security clearance is going to wake some people up. Look at all the people who have come and spoken out. You know, the icons of a national security intelligence community over the past several decades saying enough is enough.
And so, when are the members of Congress and the Republican Party going to say enough is enough?
This country is more important than Mr. Trump. This country is more important than party affiliation. I’m waiting for it. I’m hoping for it and I truly hope that it's going to happen sooner rather than later.
MADDOW: Because the president has overtly today raised this prospect of going after this current Justice Department official, his security clearance, raised a question for me as to whether he might do that to the attorney general, who he has criticized in unsparing terms, this week calling him not a real attorney general or to the deputy attorney general who oversees the Mueller investigation or to FBI Director Chris Wray.
BRENNAN: Or Bob Mueller or the team of investigators there.
MADDOW: That was raised publicly by former DNI James Clapper this week. I wondered what you thought about that.
BRENNAN: Well, I think it just demonstrates that anything is possible with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. That he has the authorities. And he can yank the security clearances of basically anybody he wants. I think it is subject to challenge.
But if he decides to yank the challenges tomorrow or the investigators working on this special counsel's effort, they're not going to be -- have access to classified information they need to do their jobs.
So, again, how desperate is he going to get? And do the Republicans really want to have to clean up after a disaster or do they want to stop this before it becomes disastrous? It's their choice. And if things become disastrous, it's going to be on their shoulders, on their conscience.