A behind-the-scenes U.S. intelligence community fight over the merits of publicly scorning President Trump has burst into the open recently, with the CIA’s former Moscow station chief accusing Obama-era spymaster John O. Brennan of crossing a red line through incessant Twitter and cable news excoriations of the current commander in chief.
In addition to claiming that Mr. Brennan is aiding a Kremlin plot to deepen America’s partisan divide, former CIA Clandestine Service Officer Daniel Hoffman says the former CIA director has actually jeopardized national security by publicly insinuating that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be blackmailing Mr. Trump.
Mr. Brennan made the insinuation in late-March when he asserted during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Mr. Trump is “afraid of the president of Russia” and that “one can speculate as to why.”
“The Russians may have something on [Mr. Trump] personally, that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult,” Mr. Brennan said. “That [Mr. Trump] has had this fawning attitude toward Mr. Putin…say[s] to me that he does have something to fear and something very serious to fear.”
The comments quickly became fodder for headlines in other news outlets. But they also had something of an explosive impact inside the intelligence community, where many recoiled at the notion that the former CIA chief had made a public declaration on a matter U.S. spy agencies have never weighed in on conclusively.
Apparently aware of this, Mr. Brennan wasted little time trying to rectify the situation by reiterating that he was only speculating. Within just a few hours of the MSNBC interview, he told The New York Times that, “I do not know if the Russians have something on Donald Trump that they could use as blackmail.”
But for Mr. Hoffman, the damage was done.
“What I found cringe-worthy,” he says, “is that Brennan was insinuating that Vladimir Putin could control President Trump and that Brennan’s choice of the word ‘speculate’ would be lost on the audience because of his previous position as director of the CIA.”
The former station chief initially took his concern public with an early-April article for The Cipher Brief, a publication known for its commentary by former intelligence officials. There, Mr. Hoffman argued that vital foreign liaison partners, upon whom American spy agencies depend to steal secrets from Russia and other adversaries, “must have been shocked and concerned over Brennan’s allegation.”...“I felt like if Brennan wanted to make the kind of allegation he made, he should have done it through the established process, by going and speaking privately about it to Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” Mr. Hoffman more recently told The Washington Times.“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