Ex-CIA boss Brennan says won't be scared into silence after Trump slap

WASHINGTON, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Former CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday he would not be silenced by Donald Trump, a day after the U.S. president revoked the Obama-era official's security clearance and said the move was directly tied to the ongoing Russia investigation.

The Republican president said in a statement on Wednesday that he revoked Brennan's authorization for making what he called "unfounded and outrageous allegations" about his administration and was evaluating whether to strip clearances from other former top officials. Brennan and the others have been critical of the president.

Trump later told the Wall Street Journal his decision was connected to the ongoing federal probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegedly collusion by his presidential campaign.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham," Trump said in an interview with the newspaper on Wednesday. "And these people led it."

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"It's something that had to be done," Trump added.

The president has denied any collusion. Russia has said it did not interfere, contrary to the U.S. intelligence community's findings.

Brennan, who led the Central Intelligence Agency under Democratic President Barack Obama, on Thursday called Trump's denials "hogwash" and vowed not to be silenced.

"The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of 'Trump Incorporated' attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets," Brennan wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times.

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, another critic whose clearance Trump said he might target, cautioned that Brennan was expressing "an informed opinion." It remained up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe, to make a final conclusion, Clapper said.

"There needs to be an official determination made about this, and that, I think, can only be done by the Mueller investigation," Clapper told CNN on Thursday.

Mueller has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including Russian intelligence officials and former Trump aides.

High-ranking government officials sometimes retain security clearances after leaving office to advise their successors as needed, and some private sector companies can also require them.

Former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, among others, could also see their clearances revoked. Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official currently in the criminal division, was also on the White House list.

"I don’t trust many of those people on that list," Trump told the Journal. "I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people."

Brennan is not facing any formal charges of violating any regulations or laws. He has frequently criticized the president on television news shows and in blistering tweets that Trump on Wednesday called "wild outbursts."

Reactions from Republican lawmakers were mixed, with some critical of Trump while others blamed Brennan for acting inappropriately.

Democratic lawmakers blasted the president's move as dangerous. U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro said Mueller should also investigate the issue now that Trump tied it to the Russia probe.

"It's an abuse of power because he's not doing it for a legitimate reason," Castro told CNN.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Jonathan Landay and Patricia Zengerle Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)