Ex-CIA official Daniel Hoffman: Brennan is doing Putin's 'bidding' by speculating about Trump blackmail

A former top CIA official who served as the agency’s station chief in Moscow is sharply criticizing his former boss, John Brennan, accusing him of doing Vladimir Putin’s “bidding” through his harsh attacks on President Trump.

In an interview on the Yahoo News podcastSkullduggery,” CIA veteran Daniel Hoffman charged that Brennan’s public comments and tweets in recent weeks have played into Putin’s hands, helping the Russian leader stoke political divisions within the country and thereby undermine U.S. national security.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen something like this,” said Hoffman about Brennan’s public comments about the president. “Gosh, I can’t remember ever seeing an instance of this in our history where a retired director of the CIA went as far as he did.”

Hoffman was reacting to a series of tweets and public statements the former CIA director has made in recent weeks after signing a contract to be a commentator for NBC News.

In one tweet on March 17, Brennan reacted to Trump’s apparent gloating about the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (the president called it a “a great day for Democracy”) by writing about the president: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

Then, in a March 21 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Brennan said of Trump: “I think he is afraid of the president of Russia. One could speculate as to why. The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”

Brennan declined to comment for this story. But shortly after his “Morning Joe” comments, he emphasized to the New York Times that he had no hard evidence that the Russians had blackmail material on Trump, notwithstanding the contents of a still-uncorroborated dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele making similar allegations. “I do not know if the Russians have something on Donald Trump that they could use as blackmail,” he told the Times.

But Hoffman, who served as CIA station chief in Moscow during President Barack Obama’s first term and later worked under Brennan as chief of the agency’s Near East operations, was not dissuaded.

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Former CIA Director John Brennan through the years
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Former CIA Director John Brennan through the years
CIA Director John Brennan speaks at a forum about "CIA's strategy in the face of emerging challenges" at The Brookings Institution in Washington, U.S. July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks as Acting CIA Director Michael Morell (R) and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan (2nd L) listen while making personnel announcements during an event in the East Room at the White House, on January 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama has nominated Hagel for the next Secretary of Defense and Brennan to become the new director of the CIA. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
James Clapper (R), Director of National Intelligence, testifies alongside CIA Director John Brennan (L), during a US House Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 10, 2015. The committee held the hearing to examine worldwide cyber threats. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan (L), U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee to be CIA director, meets with U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at Feinstein's office at Hart Senate Office Building January 31, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Brennan met with Feinstein who will hold a hearing to start the confirmation process of Brennan's nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Anti-war protesters shout slogans as John Brennan (R), President Barack Obama's pick to lead the CIA, arrives to testify before a full committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's pick to lead the CIA, testifies before a full committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 12: CIA Director John Brennan testifies during the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States' on Tuesday, March 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08: General Keith B. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command (L); John O. Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (C); and Robert S. Mueller III, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (R), take part in a question-and-answer forum during the International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) on August 8, 2013 in New York City. The ICCS, which is co-hosted by Fordham University and the FBI, is held every 18 months; more than 25 countries are represented at this year's conference. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan delivers remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations March 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Brennan denied accusations by U.S. senators who claim the CIA conducted unauthorized searches of computers used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff members in an effort to learn how the committee gained access to the agencyÃs own 2009 internal review of its detention and interrogation program, undermining Congressà oversight of the spy agency. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Director of Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan speaks during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. The head of the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged Thursday some agency interrogators used 'abhorrent' unauthorized techniques in questioning terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks. CIA director John Brennan said there was no way to determine whether the methods used produced useful intelligence, but he strongly denied the CIA misled the public. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - SEPTEMBER 10: CIA Director John Brennan testifies during a House Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Cyber Security and the threat of Cyber Attacks in Washington, USA on September 10, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee to take questions on ?Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign? in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Former CIA director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee to take questions on ?Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign? in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Former CIA director John Brennan is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee to take questions on ?Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign? in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan participates in a session at the third annual Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, DC, U.S. on September 8, 2016. To match Special Report USA-CIA-BRENNAN/ REUTERS/Gary Cameron/File Photo
CIA Director John Brennan arrives at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, U.S., June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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“Sometimes, the president can bring out the worst in his enemies or his opponents, for all that entails,” said Hoffman in his “Skullduggery” interview. Even though Brennan appeared to back away from his “Morning Joe” comments, “the damage is done.”

“I found it quite disconcerting that he went as far as he did,” Hoffman said on the podcast. “Basically, accusing the president of being subject to blackmail by Vladimir Putin is an extraordinarily strong statement to make and carries with it a lot of damage.

“The people hearing that — the viewers, not just in our country but worldwide — would presume that John Brennan, based on his former position, would actually know the answer to that [Russian blackmail] question.”

“There’s no speculation there. He was the director of the CIA. He knows a lot. The nuance is lost on those who heard John Brennan’s statements.”

Hoffman first detailed his discomfort with Brennan’s public comments in an article he wrote this week for the Cipher Brief, a website that specializes in coverage of the U.S. intelligence community. The article got attention because Hoffman is the first CIA insider to publicly call out Brennan over his postgovernment comments. He wrote in the piece that Brennan’s tweets were “cringe worthy” and that, in his public statements, “partisanship reached a new low — and they were shocking to intelligence officers, who expect former and sitting CIA directors to carefully parse their words, especially when speaking to the media.”

Hoffman expanded on the critique in his “Skullduggery” interview, saying that the former CIA director appears to have been “blinded by his antipathy towards the president.”

To be sure, Brennan is not the only former U.S. intelligence official to publicly criticize Trump. Many of these officials were offended when, in one of his first acts as president, Trump visited CIA headquarters and, while standing in front of the Hall of Stars honoring former officers who died in the line of duty, devoted much of his talk to boasting of the crowd size at his inaugural speech.

“Look, freedom of speech is something we all value in this country,” Hoffman said. “But I think, if I could be so presumptuous to say, that as a retired director of the CIA — and Russians like to say there’s no such thing as a former intelligence officer, that just doesn’t exist for them — you almost want to say that you almost take the Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm to our national security when you’re exercising your freedom of speech.”

Hoffman noted that a principal goal of Putin’s influence operations against the United States was to stoke partisan tensions within the country and undermine the public’s faith in the government, including the intelligence community. In that sense, he argued, Brennan inadvertently aided Putin in his goals.

“What Vladimir Putin wants is what John Brennan delivered,” said Hoffman. Brennan, he said, “drove the partisan wedge between the two parties that much deeper. Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats over just about everything. It’s hard for them to agree on anything. When you have a retired director of the CIA immersing himself in this dialogue in a not-so-productive way, … that’s going to drive that partisanship to a new low.”

And, he added, it will “cause the president, frankly, to be concerned, and his team to be concerned, that maybe, yes, the Obama administration intelligence community team was in some ways biased against him.”

What Brennan should have done, he said, is hold his fire and “trust the process.”

“Go to the special counsel [Robert Mueller] and explain to the special counsel what your concerns are, if there are any, and avoid the damage that you would cause by the public statement that he made against the president.”

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