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Trump Targets Official Linked To Russia Probe For Punitive Action

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is considering moving "very quickly" to revoke the security clearance of a Justice Department official who had connections with a firm that produced a controversial dossier on Trump's ties to Russia.

Trump told White House reporters on August 17 that it is a "disgrace" for Bruce Ohr to be at the department. It was the latest indication that Trump is targeting law enforcement and security officials who have been involved in the department's investigation into Russian ties with his 2016 election campaign.

Trump on August 15 revoked the security clearance for former CIA Director John Brennan, in what he said was a move to do "something" about the "rigged" Russian investigation. Brennan and other Trump critics called it an act of political vengeance.

Ohr came under Trump's scrutiny because of his contacts with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele during the 2016 campaign to compile the dossier on Trump and his Russia ties.

Ohr reportedly had contacts with Steele about the dossier, which contained some unsupported allegations that were never publicly released or supported by the department.

Ohr's wife, Nellie, also worked for Fusion GPS during the campaign — something Trump has cited in asserting the Russia investigation is politically biased against him.

Unlike some other officials the White House has said Trump is targeting, Ohr is still employed at the department and stripping him of his security clearance might make it impossible for him to continue some or all of his duties there.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on August 16, Brennan said Trump's decision to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end the investigation, which is being led by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama and has become an outspoken Trump critic, called Trump's claims that he did not collude with Russia "hogwash." Brennan said the only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a "criminally liable conspiracy."

Trump's move against Brennan has prompted a growing outcry in Washington from lawmakers and former top officials in U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their security clearances, at least for some period, so they can advise their successors and continue to work in the foreign affairs field.

On August 17, 60 former CIA officials issued a statement saying they have a right to express unclassified views on national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so.

That followed a joint letter signed by seven former CIA directors, six former CIA deputy directors, and two former national intelligence directors calling Trump's move against Brennan "ill-considered and unprecedented" and "an attempt to stifle free speech."

Among the prominent officials who signed that letter were Robert Gates, George Tenet, Porter Goss, Leon Panetta, and David Petraeus.

Two of those who signed the statement -- former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden -- were named by the White House as among those who might next be stripped of their security clearances.

"We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool," the officials wrote.

Some legal experts say Trump's actions likely are drawing scrutiny from Mueller, who is investigating whether Trump's firing of people on the Russia investigation and other moves to intimidate investigators constitute obstruction of justice, which is a crime in the United States.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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