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Security Clearance Revocation Reminds Mullen Of Nixon's 'Enemies List'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump may have revoked John Brennan's security clearance, but the former CIA director is not letting it go without a fight.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Brennan told NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday that he is considering legal action to challenge the president's decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JOHN BRENNAN: I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will do that.

GREENE: Now, this morning President Trump has been tweeting about Brennan's threat, essentially saying that if Brennan wants to sue, bring it on, but that he doubts that Brennan will actually follow through.

MARTIN: Our next guest says this move by President Trump is reminiscent of President Richard Nixon's enemies list. Retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He joins us now.

Admiral, thanks for being here.

MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, Rachel. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So you brought up this idea of the enemies list and invoking the legacy of Richard Nixon yesterday when you were interviewed on Fox News. So you see this, this move by the president to revoke these security clearances, as explicit political retribution.

MULLEN: Well, it certainly when I first heard about this brought back echoes of what Nixon did in his administration late '60s and early '70s when he was in trouble and even beyond that, further back into the McCarthy era when political leaders went after individuals for what they thought were their beliefs or that they were speaking to political issues. And it's actually - when this first started, it was one of the first things I thought about and whether this administration is essentially putting together that kind of list and then taking action which is in retribution for political views which are being expressed and obviously in strong disagreement with the administration.

MARTIN: What's the danger of that?

MULLEN: Well, I think it puts government in a position to literally go after people for expressing their views. And that's - I think that gets to the heart of First Amendment and speaking publicly. Obviously John Brennan is in the center of all this. And I worry that - you know, John has been incredibly critical of President Trump. And while I certainly understand his right to both speak freely, what I am worried about is that he represents the intelligence world as a former director of the CIA. And it's very difficult to pull his previous responsibilities apart from what he's speaking to right now. And in fact, by politicizing so many issues tied to the intelligence community, I actually think he hurts the agency that he's actually trying to defend.

MARTIN: Although it's worth pointing out that a former colleague of yours, Admiral Bill McRaven, who led the Joint Special Operations Command - he was the man who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden - known for his professionalism, known for his commitment to nonpartisanship - Admiral McRaven wrote this op-ed saying, President Trump, revoke my clearance, because he wanted to align himself with those who are speaking out against the president and how he has chosen to revoke these particular clearances and the dangers that he sees therein. Do you think McRaven went too far?

MULLEN: I actually do. I think that for Admiral McRaven, who I think the world of, it's the wrong fight. And in fact, it has its - it has a similar impact on the military in terms of being very, very political right now. And it has I think the potential to politicize the military because he is someone who is held in such high regard. And I actually understand in both cases that both men, who served our country over decades and did so nobly, feel so strongly. There's an emotion...

MARTIN: I should just...

MULLEN: There's an emotion tied to this that in fact they feel they must express with where we are right now as a country.

MARTIN: So two things - one, I should clarify that McRaven's criticism of President Trump wasn't exclusive to his decision to revoke these clearances. He said the president - I'm quoting here - "has embarrassed the country in the eyes of its children and foreign countries." So he's giving a far broader critique of President Trump. But you yourself, admiral, on this program have criticized President Trump, in particular over issues you see as a national security threat, how he has sought to diminish NATO and that alliance in particular. So where is the line?

MULLEN: I think it's one that's very difficult to draw. When I've been asked about policies - specifically, with respect to NATO - the - my concerns are much more focused on the impact of our national security - of national security outcomes, if you will, with respect to relationships with countries in NATO. Certainly, you know, this president can choose to execute whatever policies he thinks are wise. I just think - I think where Admiral McRaven went - and to your point, it was much broader - was very broad, very focused and very, very much directed at President Trump.

MARTIN: And that's what you see as being inappropriate. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - thank you so much for your time this morning, sir.

MULLEN: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.