President Trump said Friday that he plans “very quickly” to strip the security clearance of Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official he said is “a disgrace” who is tied to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has repeatedly targeted Ohr as a source for Mueller and his investigation. Ohr’s connection to the matter was as an early contact in 2016 for Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who investigated Trump’s ties to Russia.

“I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace, with his wife, Nellie,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “For him to be in the Justice Department, and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace. That is disqualifying for Mueller. And Mr. Mueller has a lot of conflicts, also.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, while not specifying Ohr’s current job, has said that he has no involvement in Mueller’s investigation, begun last year. Rosenstein appointed the special counsel and oversees his work.

Trump’s comments, made to reporters as he boarded Marine One en route to a Republican campaign event in New York, came amid rising criticism of the president for using security clearances as a political tool.

In a striking rebuke, more than a dozen former top U.S. intelligence officials released a sharply-worded letter late Thursday describing Trump’s decision earlier this week to revoke the clearance of former CIA director John Brennan as a blatant attempt to “stifle free speech” and send an “inappropriate and deeply regrettable” signal to other public servants. The signers — who served in Democratic and Republican administrations — called Trump’s action “ill-considered.”

“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” said the letter, whose signers include former CIA directors who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Robert M. Gates — who served as secretary of defense under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and director of central intelligence under President George H.W. Bush — also signed the letter after it was first released late Thursday.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the decision to pull Brennan’s clearance at a briefing on Wednesday, reading a statement from Trump that accused Brennan of making “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this Administration.”

Brennan, who led the CIA during most of Obama’s second term, has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest critics, denouncing his performance at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month as “treasonous.” On Tuesday, Brennan lambasted Trump’s personal character after he derided former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as a “dog.”

In his Friday comments, Trump said he had gotten “tremendous response” for his action against Brennan. “If anything, I’m giving him a bigger voice,” he said. “Many people don’t even know who he is . . . I’ve never respected him.”

Trump has told advisers that he is eager to strip more security clearances as part of an escalating attack on people who have criticized him or played a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Besides Gates, those signing the letter included former CIA directors William H. Webster, George J. Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael V. Hayden, Leon E. Panetta and David H. Petraeus; former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; and former deputy CIA directors John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, Avril Haines, David Cohen and Michael Morell.

“This action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials,” the letter says. “That signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security and not political views.”

Trump has indicated he also was considering revoking security clearances for other critics, including Clapper and Hayden, former national security adviser Susan E. Rice, former FBI director James B. Comey, former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates and Ohr. Several of them have said they no longer have clearances.

During an appearance Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends” on the Fox News Channel, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s action.

“In terms of Mr. Brennan, I see many people saying that this is nakedly political because he’s a Trump critic. No, remember you keep those security clearances as a professional courtesy or to keep an unbroken line for the next successor administration if you can be helpful with respect to national security. He’s proven neither.”

Asked whether Trump plans to yank other clearances, Conway said: “That’s up to the president. He has the authority to do that.”

David Nakamura and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.


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