It came out this week that John Brennan, the most partisan CIA director ever, briefed Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton’s plans to smear Trump as a Putin-besotted collaborator. Brennan’s 2016 briefing notes to Obama refer to “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 28 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”
Did Obama tell his CIA director to steer clear of this partisan mischief? Clearly not. Brennan had already joined in it. Auditioning for a role in the Hillary administration — Brennan had told his colleagues he wanted to remain as CIA director under her — Brennan was pushing the Trump smear as hard as anyone.
CIA interference in elections was once one of the gravest sins in the liberal catechism. How times had changed. Brennan spent much of 2016 meddling in the election, first forming early in that year an “interagency taskforce” at Langley to hype Trump–Russia ties.
Brennan became what he once claimed to oppose: a CIA director up to his eyeballs in domestic politics. In the radical 1970s, he had received an education steeped in anti-American literature about such CIA directors. According to his own admission, the mischief of the CIA and other agencies engendered in him a distrust of America — an “unhappiness with the system” that led him to vote in 1976 for Gus Hall, the presidential candidate for the Soviet-controlled American Communist Party. At one of the most important moments of the Cold War, Brennan was rooting for the Reds.
It must have amused Vladimir Putin to see a Gus Hall supporter become a CIA director, who then used that position to peddle Russian disinformation across the government, leading to a crippling investigation of an American president.
In John Brennan lies the story of America’s decline, marked by a generation of radicals who rose to the top of agencies and institutions that they had once tried to destroy. Just a month or so after briefing Obama on Hillary’s plans, Brennan was marketing her smear to compliant senators, such as Nevada’s Harry Reid.
Upset that Americans wouldn’t know before election day that Trump was under investigation for Russian collusion, Brennan looked around for a senator who might leak that information. He found one in Reid, who has cheerfully told reporters that Brennan sought him out as the conduit for a damaging leak against Trump: “Why do you think he called me?”
Even Reid, who is famous for his low politics, found Brennan’s scheming — his “ulterior motive” — oddly hyper. In Russian Roulette, authors David Corn and Michael Isikoff write that Reid “had concluded the CIA chief believed the public needed to know about the Russian operation, including the information about the possible links to the Trump campaign.”
Brennan has denied that he used Reid to publicize an investigation of the Trump campaign — a denial that looks even more implausible in light of this week’s revelations. Nick Shapiro, a Brennan aide, told the Washington Times in 2018 that Brennan’s call to Reid revolved primarily around what Reid knew about alleged Trump–Russia ties: “In fact, most of the conversation was spent with Senator Reid telling Brennan what he had heard about Russians and the Trump campaign.”
Why would Brennan have needed to listen to that? He was already briefing Obama on Hillary’s smear. No, Brennan was preparing the ground for an October Surprise and selected Reid as the senator to deliver it.
Of course, Brennan had nothing of substance to give him, apart from news of the FBI investigation that he had ginned up with James Comey — an investigation that even Peter Strzok, the FBI liaison to Brennan, knew was a crock.
Brennan in 2016 was as much of a sweaty anti-Trump partisan as he is today. Invested in Trump’s defeat and eager to please Hillary, he was desperate to prove Trump–Russia collusion. Recall that out of this feverish and wild hunch came the last-ditch efforts to entrap Trump through Stefan Halper, the spy Brennan and Comey dispatched to infiltrate the Trump campaign’s ranks.
In the annals of CIA interference in elections, Brennan’s 2016 meddling in our own should go down in infamy.