For supporters of President Donald Trump, it’s the Deep State at its most dangerous.
When former President Barack Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan took to MSNBC in March to insinuate that the White House is vulnerable to specific, personal blackmail by Russian President Vladimir Putin, liberals hailed it as the kind of “truth to power moment” they needed to tarnish the Trump presidency as fundamentally flawed.
But a veteran of the Cold War’s shadowy front lines is fighting back.
In an interview with The Washington Times published Monday, Daniel Hoffman, the CIA’s former station chief in Moscow, said Brennan’s deliberate smearing of the president — without a shred of evidence to back it up — was the kind of partisan tactic that could directly damage the work of intelligence agencies in the field.
If Brennan really was alarmed at a potential security threat involving Trump being vulnerable to Russian pressure, Hoffman said, he could have brought it up to special counsel Robert Mueller, who has now spent almost a year investigating the possibility of “Russian collusion” by the Trump campaign.
“That way, he could avoid collateral damage to those with whom we are working, whether it’s a spy who’s risking his life to be the source of secrets for us, who’s now going to wonder whether he should be doing that because his boss Vladimir Putin has dirt on our president, or a partner liaison service, which might want to work with us against the Russia target,” Hoffman told the Times.
But that isn’t what Brennan chose to do at all. Instead, he sat on the set of the rabidly anti-Trump “Morning Joe” program and said something about the president of the United States that had to chill any American.
“I think he is afraid of the president of Russia,” Brennan said. “…I think one can speculate as to why. That the Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult. Clearly, I think it’s important for us to be able to improve relations with Russia, but the fact that he has had this fawning attitude toward Mr. Putin, has not said anything negative about him, I think continues to say to me that he does have something to fear and something very serious to fear.”
(Check out the video on RealClear Politics here. Brennan’s sneering attititude make the words even worse than they appear in print. And he doesn’t look like he’s guessing.)
Brennan later tried to walk back that damning statement, telling The New York Times in an interview after the appearance that his words had been entirely speculative.
“I do not know if the Russians have something on Donald Trump that they could use as blackmail,” he wrote in an email.
But as Jonathan Tobin pointed out at National Review, Brennan’s words were not taken as speculation by the many news outlets that picked them up. Even The Times story where Brennan walked them back was headlined, “Ex-Chief of CIA Suggests Putin May Have Compromising Information on Trump.”
And that is the heart of Hoffman’s criticism. He doesn’t fault Brennan necessarily for speaking out against Trump (though when Brennan posted a Twitter attack against Trump in March on behalf of fired ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, he passed well beyond the bounds of respectful criticism.)
But Hoffman does recognize that as a former CIA director, Brennan’s words have a weight that the words of partisan hacks like, say, Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer do not, and never will.
And while American agents and potential agents will likely never give a darn about what Pelosi or Schumer says, they’re likely to get very antsy when a man like Brennan — who should be in a position to know — publicly implies that the American president might be so vulnerable to a rival country’s blackmail.
As Hoffman wrote in his own commentary on the national security website Cipher Brief:
“Our intelligence community relies on foreign liaison partners to share intelligence, not just on Russia but other mutual enemies including terrorists and proliferators. I could imagine them being so disturbed by Brennan’s statements that they would seek reassurance from their U.S. counterparts that Trump and his administration would protect their sensitive intelligence. Spies operating behind enemy lines to steal secrets on our behalf must have been shocked and concerned over Brennan’s allegation.”
As The Washington Times pointed out, Hoffman spent his CIA career in the field, dealing with “spies operating behind enemy lines.” Brennan worked his way up through the bureaucrat ranks in Washington.
A man with a Washington worldview might — once out of office — actually think more about impressing “Morning Joe” or “Meet the Press” hosts than protecting the welfare of American agents and their foreign assets who are still fighting the fight.
Basically, as Hoffman sees it, Brennan has been so rabid in his criticism of Trump, so determined to take down the presidency, that he’s literally endangering national security simply to smear the president.
And for Trump supporters, that’s the Deep State at its most dangerous.
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