Former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan does not believe that the commander-in-chief will complete his first term in office.
At a private dinner held in March in Los Angeles, Brennan twice stated in a room full of Hollywood celebrities that Trump “will not be in power by the end of the calendar year,” according to several sources with intimate knowledge of the event and what was said there.
Brennan declined to comment to The Daily Beast at a public event Tuesday at Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security. Through an intermediary, he said he did not remember making such remarks, and would not discuss a private conversation.
But others have, on the condition of anonymity. They have also separately confirmed the venue and audience for Brennan’s prediction that Trump would resign or being impeached before his first term was up. It was at a dinner hosted by Rob Reiner, the liberal filmmaker, at which both Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke, under off-the-record conditions in front of welter of West Coast elites including Barbra Streisand, Larry David and the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti.
The sources disagreed, however, on the tone with which Brennan made his remarks. One said it was delivered “matter-of-factly,” with a hint of certitude; another suggested it was given as mere “opinion.”
As one of the nation’s former spymasters, Brennan was in possession of America’s most classified intelligence on Russia’s interference operation in the 2016 U.S. election. Since departing his post as director he has been a consistent and ferocious opponent of the president, some would say recklessly so.
An Obama appointee, he has repeatedly assailed Trump on television and Twitter for indecency, moral squalor, unfitness for office and — most controversially — “treasonous” behavior. In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Brennan argued that Trump’s oft-repeated claims that there was no collusion between his campaign and agents of the Russian government amount to “hogwash.” He credited that assessment to both his own “deep insight” as the erstwhile head of U.S. foreign intelligence and also the open-source reporting which has been conducted since he left the Agency on January 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Even still, many of Brennan’s admirers believe his outspokenness and use of adjectives (“small, petty, banal, mean-spirited, nasty, naïve, unsophisticated” to name just a few) is a way of telegraphing that he knows where the proverbial bodies are buried in the Trump-Russia scandal, but cannot say so without disclosing classified intelligence and therefore breaking the law. For perhaps the same reason, his sallies against a sitting president, unprecedented for a former CIA director, have also made him a foil for Trump loyalists who view Brennan as the embodiment of the so-called “deep state” — that is, a supposed cabal of past and present intelligence officers trying to dethrone a democratically elected chief executive.
Trump has only encouraged that perception, having once likened the U.S. intelligence community to the Nazis and repeatedly disclaimed its collective findings about Russian interference in the election that delivered him into the White House in favor of Vladimir Putin’s reassurances that no such interference took place. Trump has labeled Brennan “the worst CIA Director in our country’s history” and baiting him to sue “to get all of his records, texts, emails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with the Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt.”
Last month, Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance owing to what he labeled the former director’s “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary” in the media, a rather Freudian list of grievances coming from this particular president. The move was met with enormous backlash. Hundreds of former intelligence officials, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, rallied to Brennan’s defense, some even inviting Trump to revoke their clearances, too, in solidarity. The consensus was that Brennan was well within his rights, as a private citizen, to express his opinions and hadn’t done anything, in his capacity as ex-director, to jeopardize national security.
Those defending Brennan don’t necessarily agree with the style or substance of his opposition and fear that even if his prophecy of a short-lived Trump term proves true, the consequences for the Untied States will be dire.
“For the record, I think the president’s policies and personality are bad for America and the world,” Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and of the National Security Agency, told The Daily Beast. Hayden, like Brennan, often makes ample use of social media and television appearances to critique Trump’s judgment and policies, but falls short of resorting to ad hominem attacks.
“Absent clear evidence of obviously criminal acts on the part of the president or his campaign that affected the vote in 2016 (and that is not out of the question ), the remedy here is the next presidential election in 2020," Hayden told us. "A change in government prior to that time will be viewed by perhaps a third of my countrymen as a coup carried out by people like me, and will make a unified way forward consistent with our traditions even more difficult.”
With additional reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Christopher Dickey