‘Can I Make My Point, Please?’ Isikoff Slams ‘Overwrought’ Brennan Coverage

When the person who co-wrote the book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump suggests that the outrage over John Brennan losing his security clearance is a tad much, perhaps the rest of the liberal media should take a chill pill.

Appearing on the Friday edition of MSNBC’s All In, Yahoo! News investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff spared with fill-in co-host Ali Velshi and Natasha Bertrand from The Atlantic when he dared to suggested that “some of this is a little overwrought, the idea that it’s stifling free speech is kind of absurd.

 

 

Bertrand and Velshi led into Isikoff by fretting over the timing of the Brennan release and the damage it was doing to the media’s wall-to-wall Omarosa obsession, so Isikoff’s curveball was unexpected and got right to the heart of the matter as his two panelists appeared shocked (click “expand” to read more):

Well, look, I mean, the John Brennan revocation, I think some of this is a little overwrought, the idea that it’s stifling free speech is kind of absurd. John Brennan is going on this network within an hour and is going to speak freely about what he has to say about the President. He certainly hasn’t held back and one should look at some of his tweets, which I think, you know, our problem — the views are probably shared by most of your listeners but the fact is he is a former CIA Director and when he says the President is a demagogue who will end up on the dustbin of history, when he says that the President engaged in collusion when he had testified before Congress that he was not aware if there was actual collusion, I mean there are a lot of questions that people have within the intelligence community about a lot of what John Brennan has been saying.

Velshi intervened with extreme dismay, telling Isikoff that Brennan “didn’t use” or “abuse” “any of his classified information” and even though there’s plenty of specified reasons to take away someone’s security clearance, Brennan “hasn’t committed any of them but and there’s no process, Michael. I mean that’s just — that’s a weird argument.”

So suggesting that revoking someone’s clearance doesn’t spell doom for free speech in America is “a weird argument?” Cue the eye roll. 

The pair then jousted back and forth (click “expand” to read more):

ISIKOFF: It’s not a weird argument, Ali.

VELSHI: If you don’t — if you don’t like what he says that’s cool —

ISIKOFF: It’s not a weird argument.

VELSHI: No, it actually is, Michael.

ISIKOFF: What is much more serious — what is much more serious —

VELSHI: Michael, Michael, Michael —

ISIKOFF: — yeah.

VELSHI: — there are the 13 reasons that you can take someone a clearance away.

ISIKOFF: Right. Sure. Sure.

VELSHI: There are no breaches of those by — by John Brennan.

ISIKOFF: My point is I don’t disagree with that at all, my only point is John Brennan is not going to suffer because his security clearance has been revoked.

Velshi claimed that while most don’t have any particular sympathy for Brennan, it’s about the broader issue of whether America will “suffer because of it.” 

Isikoff interjected and asked if “can I make my point, please?” He then laid out a way to move the conversation toward something all three could agree on, which is “much more serious” and involves current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr possibly next to lose his clearance.

Like a good liberal journalist, Velshi dismissed Isikoff’s olive branch and turning to “the slippery slope” argument liberals love to denounce conservatives for supposedly using as a logical fallacy.

“The President’s done something that is that has breached the process that you’re supposed to use if you want to take somebody’s security clearance away. I don’t know that there are shades of this sort of thing,” Velshi added.

In contrast, Bertrand faithfully followed Velshi’s line as if he were a Fusion GPS official and stated that Velshi’s argument was “exactly the point that I was going to make was this slippery slope danger where you set the precedent by revoking John Brennan’s security clearance.”

On Ohr, Bertrand fretted that yanking his clearance would “completely hamstring his ability to do his job” to the point that it’d “amount to him losing his job and his ability to carry out his role as a public servant in response to him having a proper channel between Chris Steele and the Justice Department.”

To see the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s All In on August 17, click “expand.”

MSNBC’s All In
August 17, 2018
8:06 p.m. Eastern

NATASHA BERTRAND: And I think that we see now the lengths that he’s willing to go to distract from news cycles that are not favorable to him and we’ve seen that with the you know, revoking John Brennan’s security clearance. That was a deliberate attempt to distract from the Omarosa news that was coming out.

ALI VELSHI: Yes, the memo was dated July 26th and it came out yesterday.

BERTRAND. Exactly and so it was about three weeks after right when the Omarosa news was hitting that this finally was released and of course a new report in The Washington Post tonight actually says that communications staffers at the White House are drafting new security clearance cancellations and determining when they would be most beneficial to be released. So they’re essentially planning this around negative news cycles and they’re not only politicizing the security clearance process but they’re actually using it in order to make themselves look better during a damaging — during damaging media reports.

VELSHI: But Michael, in the beginning, this looked like something petty and vindictive. It now has taken on a much more sinister feel to it. Now the President — we don’t even have to guess right — the President has basically said it was about the Russia investigation. This was the new Lester Holt moment. Now that he said this, tell me how this all unfolds? The President having failed to outwit his opponents has now decided to just use brute force.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Sure. Well, look, I mean, the John Brennan revocation, I think some of this is a little overwrought, the idea that it’s stifling free speech is kind of absurd. John Brennan is going on this network within an hour and is going to speak freely about what he has to say about the President. He certainly hasn’t held back and one should look at some of his tweets, which I think, you know, our problem — the views are probably shared by most of your listeners but the fact is he is a former CIA Director and when he says the President is a demagogue who will end up on the dustbin of history, when he says that the President engaged in collusion when he had testified before Congress that he was not aware if there was actual collusion, I mean there are a lot of questions that people have within the intelligence community about a lot of what John Brennan has been saying.

VELSHI: But Michael, he didn’t use any of his classified information. He didn’t abuse any. 

ISIKOFF: Right. Of course not.

VELSHI: But there are 13 reasons why you can remove somebody’s clearance. 

ISIKOFF: Right. I do find —

VELSHI: He hasn’t committed any of them but and there’s no process, Michael. I mean that’s just — that’s a weird argument. 

ISIKOFF: It’s not a weird argument, Ali.

VELSHI: If you don’t — if you don’t like what he says that’s cool —

ISIKOFF: It’s not a weird argument.

VELSHI: No, it actually is, Michael.

ISIKOFF: What is much more serious — what is much more serious —

VELSHI: Michael, Michael, Michael —

ISIKOFF: — yeah.

VELSHI: — there are the 13 reasons that you can take someone a clearance away.

ISIKOFF: Right. Sure. Sure.

VELSHI: There are no breaches of those by — by John Brennan.

ISIKOFF: My point is I don’t disagree with that at all, my only point is John Brennan is not going to suffer because his security clearance has been revoked.

VELSHI: Oh, and I don’t think any of us care if he is. Is the nation is going to suffer because of it? Is there some big implication?

BERTRAND: Can I just make a quick point on that?

ISIKOFF: Can I — can I — can I make my point, please. What is much more serious is the questions about Bruce Ohr because he’s still a standing Justice Department official and when you talk about basically eliminating anybody’s due process and revoking by Presidential edict, somebody who is still in office, still serving the government, that, to me, is a much more serious matter than whether John Brennan has his security clearance or not.

VELSHI: I disagree. I think you’re going down the slippery slope, you’ve gotten down the slippery slope. The President’s done something that is that has breached the process that you’re supposed to use if you want to take somebody’s security clearance away. 

ISIKOFF: Well —

VELSHI: I don’t know that there are shades of this sort of thing. I mean, Natasha, what do you think the further implications of this are? We’ve seen these 13 senior intelligence officials write this letter, now we’ve seen another 61 of whom I’ll speak to later on, they’re all very concerned about greater implications not John Brennan’s free speech rights.

BERTRAND: Right, exactly and that’s exactly the point that I was going to make was this slippery slope danger where you set the precedent by revoking John Brennan’s security clearance where you know, I agree with — I agree with Mike. I agree that, you know, John Brennan’s freedom of speech has not been stifled here, but the — but the precedent that it sets in terms of desensitizing people to the idea of the President revoking security clearances not because of a national security violation but because that person has been critical of the President in the — within the context of the Russia investigation or any other context. I think that is a precedent that’s very dangerous and of course, as Mike said, this is also a very important point. It’s completely different now when you’re talking about a currently serving Justice Department official. That, of course, will completely hamstring his ability to do his job. So that would actually amount to him losing his job and his ability to carry out his role as a public servant in response to him having a proper channel between Chris Steele and the Justice Department during 2016 and 2017 when this kind of — when negotiations between Steele and the FBI were still ongoing. So, of course, this is a terrible precedent. I think that the McRaven op-ed was not necessarily meant for example as a notice to the general public but it was more meant to — to convey to people who may be in the same position, either current or former intelligence officials that this is a moment when they need to really decide what they’re going to do.

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