Former CIA chief John Brennan is a liar. And he’s not the kind of garden variety dissembler that we see in Washington all the time, either. Rather, Brennan is the kind of man who feels comfortable brazenly misleading the American people about an attack on democracy, and then shamelessly lecturing them about civic decency.
You may recall, as director of the CIA, Brennan oversaw an operation of illegal spying on a staffer of the legislative branch of the United States government. At least five agency officials under his watch broke into Senate computer files, viewing drafts of a report on torture and reconstructing emails of at least one staffer. Brennan would attempt to cover up the agency’s actions by doubling down, blaming the Senate, and pushing to fire at least one staffer charged with investigating his agency.
It wasn’t until the CIA’s inspector general confirmed this wrongdoing that Brennan began negotiating with the senators about owning up to the spying (which we still don’t fully understand). Even then, however, he was lying about it to the public. When asked about the CIA hacking into Senate computers at an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, the intelligence chief responded that “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the – you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.” Brennan went on to contend: “Let me assure you the CIA was in no way spying on [the committee] or the Senate.”
To allow the CIA to save face, senators began negotiating with Brennan “about holding people at the CIA accountable and publicly apologizing,” according to sources. In the end, there would be no public apology, only a private one to a senator. There would be no explanation about why Brennan felt it was okay to circumvent oversight and use his power to spy on elected officials. It was the kind of thing that Sen. Dianne Feinstein said undermined “the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”
It goes without saying that such a norm-breaking event would spark a thermonuclear reaction from the press today. Rightly so. But these were the heady, scandal-free days of 2014. Brennan, who has many friends in Washington, was never held accountable. The Obama administration backed him fully, and the Senate moved on. No one put him under oath and grilled him about the specifics.
Not that it matters. James Clapper lied to Congress under oath without any repercussions. And in 2018, if you’re shameless enough, and if you have the right friends and the right opinions, a history of abuse gets you a deal with NBC News. It gets you on with “Morning Joe,” where you can lecture the American people about democratic norms you ignored when in power. It also allows the rest of us see how reckless Brennan is.
When Trump made his congratulatory call to authoritarian Vladimir Putin this week — as has been, unfortunately, tradition among presidents — Brennan appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to say something that would, at other time in history, be astonishing.
“I think he is afraid of the president of Russia,” Brennan said of the president who began selling lethal weapons to Ukraine and missile defense technology to Eastern European nations, and oversaw the U.S led bombing and killing of Russian in Syria. “The Russians,” he went on, “could have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.” They “may have things that they could expose and reveal,” he added.
Surely a former intelligence chief wouldn’t float rumors about a foreign power blackmailing the president of the United States if he didn’t have some information to back up this kind of contention. Surely, he wouldn’t further corrupt the trust Americans have in their institutions by using the respect people have for his former position for political purposes.
This is the former CIA director we’re talking about. It’s one thing for someone like Joe Scarborough, Trump’s jilted ex-bestie, to make such contentions. It’s quite another for a person who had access to potentially incriminating evidence to make such an assertion. Perhaps he needs to be put under oath so we can all see what he knows.
Or, perhaps, at the very least, someone at NBC might follow up on this, and other pressing questions. After all, former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power says it isn’t a “good idea to piss off John Brennan.” Why not? Is Brennan the type of guy who would use his power for political purposes? Since Brennan is in a talkative mood, let’s find out what he knows about Putin. While we’re at it, let’s find out why he thought it okay for the foreign intelligence service to spy on the American legislative branch. Because Donald Trump’s sins do not absolve Brennan of his.