President Donald Trump on Friday again tied his decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan to the "rigged" Russia investigation, contradicting the White House's official position, and dismissed criticism that the move is an attempt to silence those who are critical of his administration.
"There’s no silence. If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice," Trump said to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, referring to Brennan. "Many people don't even know who he is, and now he has a bigger voice. And that’s OK with me because I like taking on voices like that."
Trump also said he had gotten a "tremendous response" for having revoked Brennan's clearance. "Security clearances are very important to me, very important," he said, adding that he "never respected" Brennan.
In a statement read by press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday, Trump said he took away the courtesy of allowing a former administration official to retain security clearance because it has been "outweighed by the risk posed by his erratic conduct and behavior."
Trump claimed Brennan had "recently leveraged his status ... to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and on television, about this administration" in the statement.
However, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump said that it was not because of national security, but because Brennan and others are being targeted for their role in the Russia probe.
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“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Trump said in the interview. “And these people led it!”
He added, “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”
Brennan, who served as director of the CIA during President Barack Obama's second term, has been an outspoken Trump critic.
Brennan, also a senior national security analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, swiftly responded to Trump's revocation in an MSNBC interview and on Twitter on Wednesday.
"If Mr. Trump believes that this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken," Brennan said then, describing the move as "his way of getting back at me" and saying it was designed "to intimidate and suppress any criticism of him or his administration."
A day before Trump's announcement, Brennan had criticized Trump on MSNBC, calling him "dangerous to our nation." Brennan also struck back on Thursday in a New York Times op-ed that called Trump’s claims that there had been no collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election “hogwash.”
On Friday, Trump said that if Brennan knew something nefarious, "Why didn't you report it when you were before all of these committees? ... So he had a chance to report it. He never did."
"It's a disgusting thing frankly, I say it again, that whole situation is a rigged witch hunt," Trump said on Friday.
Trump's decision has also drawn sharp rebuke from veteran intelligence officials, with many who served in past administrations signing a statement criticizing the move.
"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," William McRaven, a retired four-star admiral, wrote in an open letter to Trump in The Washington Post.
His decision was also praised by some Republicans and criticized by others in the party.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said on Thursday he thought the move was "a banana republic kind of thing."
"I don’t like it," he said. "It was obviously done in a retaliatory way."
However, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah echoed the supportive reactions of many GOP senators Thursday, saying he was fine with the decision because Brennan was a "partisan."