President Donald Trump has called John Brennan and James Clapper, two of the Obama administration’s top intelligence officials, “liars and leakers” and “political hacks,” and referred to one of them as a “lying machine.” But in an odd twist, the White House is using their kind words about Trump’s CIA director pick, Gina Haspel, to promote her controversial nomination.
On its website, the White House released a full-throated defense of Haspel, calling her “the Right Person to Lead the CIA.” The fact sheet contains laudatory statements by former US intelligence leaders, including Brennan and Clapper.
Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, said he “think[s] the world of Gina; she is capable, smart, very experienced, well respected by the Agency rank and file, and a great person,” per the fact sheet. And Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, said Haspel “has the experience — the breadth and depth — on intelligence issues.”
There’s no doubting the sincerity of their statements. In fact, it’s likely the two men do support Haspel, which is why the White House would want to highlight their quotes. Haspel faces a tough confirmation fight in the Senate due to her past involvement overseeing the CIA’s torture program. The administration — and particularly the CIA — wants to deflect attacks by pointing out that she has support from both Democrats and Republicans.
But it’s still a bit ironic that the White House would use Brennan and Clapper in its promotional material given that they’ve been openly attacking the president for months, and that he’s been responding in kind.
To take one example among many, on November 11, 2017, Trump called Brennan and Clapper “political hacks” for claiming Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election. The following day, Clapper and Brennan went on CNN to say Trump was getting “played” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The animosity has only gotten worse. On April 28, Trump called Clapper a “lying machine” on Twitter and accused him of leaking a dossier that alleges that Russia has incriminating material it can use to blackmail Trump. Brennan defended Clapper on Twitter just five hours later, saying Trump’s “hypocrisy knows no bounds.” He continued: “Jim Clapper served his country for over a half century, including in Vietnam. You did not. By your words & behavior, you diminish the Office of the Presidency.”
Clearly, these men are not fans of the president. Perhaps, in the future, they can bond over their mutual admiration for Haspel.