David Jackson Deirdre Shesgreen USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – Former CIA Director John Brennan isn’t worried about the Trump administration trying to prosecute him. Nor is he all that concerned about apeaceful transfer of power if President Donald Trump loses the election – particularly if it’s a resounding defeat, as Brennan hopes.
What really has the ex-CIA chief on edge? The social and political havoc Trump may unleash between Election Day and the possible inauguration of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
Trump could provoke civil unrest. He could try to declare martial law. He could pardon himself and a rogue’s gallery of his supporters, Brennan said.
He’s so nervous about some of the possibilities – given the president’s powers – that he didn’t even want to say them out loud.
“When I think about my time in the White House (and) what a president can do, quite frankly, I don’t want to give Donald Trump any more ideas than he might already have,” he told USA TODAY in wide-ranging interview to promote his book, “Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, At Home and Abroad.”
Of course, Brennan – who has clashed with the president bitterly and frequently for years and made him a major target of his book – is also worried about a Trump victory on Nov. 3.
“He’s just going to continue along this trajectory of incompetence, ineptitude, corruption, malfeasance, deceit, lying, and fueling polarization at home,” Brennan said, adding alienating allies and cozying up to dictators to the list. “And that’s just the start.”
Trump has falsely accused Brennan and other Obama-era intelligence officials of spying on his 2016 presidential campaign, and the president has suggested they should be criminally prosecuted.
“They used the intelligence agencies of our country to spy on my campaign, and they have been caught,” Trump said during an Aug. 11 briefing at the White House. “This was an illegal act like no other illegal act. This was treason.”
Brennan said he has “nothing to fear” in terms of legal action. He said he can’t be sure Attorney General William Barr won’t try to charge him, but called that a “desperate” effort by Trump to distract Americans.
“I have full confidence that what I did when I was director of CIA was entirely appropriate and consistent with my authorities,” he said.
In “Undaunted,” Brennan writes that he takes no pleasure in speaking out against Trump.
“But, as long as Mr. Trump continues to trample the tenets of our democracy, lie to the American people, denigrate the office of the presidency, endanger our national security, and sully our reputation around the world, I will not relent in my criticism of him,” he writes.
Trump and Brennan have tussled from the start, but their animosity exploded after Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July of 2018. During a news conference after their one-on-one meeting, Trump questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and appeared to accept Putin’s denials.
Trump’s comments were “nothing short of treasonous,” Brennan tweeted at the time.
“It got worse from there,” Brennan said in Friday’s interview.
Brennan said he hopes Trump gets “soundly spanked by the American electorate” on Nov. 3 so he has no room to cry foul. He predicted that Trump will mount some kind of legal challenge to the results if he loses, but he hopes those will crumble if enough Republican allies in Congress refuse to defend him.
The bigger concern, he said, is if Trump encourages his supporters to protest the outcome, perhaps violently.
“Words matter, especially when they’re coming from someone who occupies the Oval Office,” Brennan said.
Leading up to Nov. 3, Brennan said he is less worried about a cyberattack on America’s voting infrastructure than he is about the power of foreign actors – namely Russia but also China, Iran and other U.S. foes – to distort Americans’ views of the two candidates and the issues at play.
Brennan pointed to Russia’s sophisticated 2016 campaign to boost Trump’s candidacy and said he is certain that effort changed some voters’ minds.
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Now, he said, “I believe that Vladimir Putin has a real, vested interest in seeing Trump reelected.”
If Biden wins, Brennan said the incoming administration can send a clear message to Moscow right out of the gate by re-energizing America’s international alliances and presenting a united front against Russia, as well as China and other global competitors.
“A Biden administration is going to have its hands full,” he said, dealing with the urgent domestic challenge of COVID-19, the economy, and social justice issues. But the former vice president will also “have to send clear signals to our partners and allies around the world that the United States is back.”
Brennan said the most immediate global threat for the next president is climate change, which he called “one of the most insidious and serious threats” facing the planet. It will unleash a cascade of other crises, he said, from increased migration to diminished agriculture productivity.
The former CIA director said he did not intend his book to become a campaign weapon against Trump. He’d hoped to publish the memoir earlier this year, but the Trump administration blocked access to his CIA files and demanded a lengthy pre-publication review – delaying publication.
He said he wanted to write the book to set the historical record straight and to inspire college students to enter public service.
“I do remain undaunted,” Brennan said.