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Retired military, intelligence leaders blast Trump

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: David H. Petraeus
Former CIA Director David H. Petraeus speaks in 2016. Riccardo Savi / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — First came the op-ed from retired Navy Admiral William McRaven — who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden — criticizing President Trump’s decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he wrote in the Washington Post, adding: “If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.”

Then, just hours later, a group of 12 former intelligence leaders from over the last three decades — including William Webster, George Tenet, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus and James Clapper — also chided the president.

“Since leaving government service, John has chosen to speak out sharply regarding what he sees as threats to our national security. Some of the undersigned have done so as well. Others among us have elected to take a different course and be more circumspect in our public pronouncements,” they wrote. “Regardless, we all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

They added, “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case. Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials.”

NBC’s Peter Alexander confirms that former CIA Director (and Defense Secretary) Robert Gates also has added his name to the letter, making it 13 former intel leaders criticizing the president’s action.

This one-two punch is a substantial rebuke against Trump. And it raises the question: Where do the current intelligence officials — like CIA Director Gina Haspel and DNI Dan Coats — stand on this issue? Do they agree or disagree with the president’s action?

As our colleague Beth Fouhy notes, the McRaven-Petraeus-Gates-Panetta criticism stands in contrast to the reactions yesterday from a handful of GOP senators who commented on Brennan losing his security clearance. Per MSNBC’s Garrett Haake, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, both said they were fine with Trump’s action.

You better think… Think about what you’re trying to do

Speaking of rebukes, it’s hard NOT to see this being one, too. “The multimillion-dollar military parade through the nation's capital requested by President Donald Trump has been delayed until 2019, a Defense Department spokesman said Thursday,’ per NBC’s Courtney Kube.

“‘The Department of Defense and White House have been planning a parade to honor America's military veterans and commemorate the centennial of World War I,’ said Col. Rob Manning. ‘We originally targeted November 10, 2018 for this event but have now agreed to explore opportunities in 2019.’”

More: “Earlier Thursday, a defense official told NBC News that the upper estimate of the cost of the parade was $92 million, a figure first reported by CNBC. The estimate had risen substantially since February, when White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Congress the price could be $10 million to $30 million.”

Via Twitter this morning, Trump blamed the postponement on the city of Washington, D.C. “The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it.”

Chain of Fools?

And then there’s the latest Omarosa tape recording that’s embarrassing Team Trump. NBC News: “Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former reality TV star who became a top White House aide to President Donald Trump, on Thursday released exclusively to MSNBC a secret tape of campaign official Lara Trump offering her a $15,000-a-month job after she was fired from the administration.”

“The tape — which, according to Manigault Newman was made on Dec. 16, 2017, just days after she had left the White House — appears to corroborate claims she made in her new book about receiving an offer from the president's re-election campaign. Manigault Newman wrote in her book that the job offer came with the condition of signing a nondisclosure agreement; she said she did not accept it.”

“On the new tape, Lara Trump says: ‘It sounds a little like, obviously, that there are some things you've got in the back pocket to pull out. Clearly, if you come on board the campaign, like, we can't have, we got to,’ she continues, before Manigault Newman interjects, ‘Oh, God no.’”

“‘Everything, everybody, positive, right?’ Trump continues.”

Also: “[I]n a statement issued by the Trump campaign, Lara Trump called Manigault Newman's latest tape "a fraud" and said she was "shocked and saddened by her betrayal and violation."

Democrats don’t appear “Rock Steady” behind Pelosi

Meanwhile, the New York Times is the latest to report on the Democratic rebellion — both quiet and not-so quiet — against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “In perhaps the most serious test of her 15-year grip on the House Democratic caucus, Ms. Pelosi is facing unrest from older lawmakers critical of her style, younger Democrats demanding generational change and candidates across the party who have sought to inoculate themselves against Republican attacks by distancing themselves from her,” the paper writes.

“One of Ms. Pelosi’s deputies, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, said in an interview that he would seek the speakership if she struggles to amass the required 218 votes after November — an extraordinary acknowledgment of her vulnerability given the culture of deference in Washington.”

Say a little prayer for you

“Jurors weighing the fate of President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort ended its first day of deliberations Thursday with a set of questions for the judge, asking for further explanation of legal points the defense made in closing arguments,” the Washington Post says. “Jurors had four questions, some of which centered around defense arguments made by Manafort’s lawyers.”

“Manafort faces 18 tax and bank fraud charges. Prosecutors say he hid millions of dollars from the IRS in overseas bank accounts, and then lied to banks to obtain multimillion dollar loans. The jury’s deliberations began just before 10 a.m. Thursday. They are expected to resume Friday at 9:30 a.m.”

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