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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Several wanted to fiddle with the punctuation, some wanted to add nice things about John Brennan; others thought it would be wiser to pare them back.

But in 12 hours, a couple of former CIA senior aides pulled off a first in American history. CIA directors who had served every previous president going back to Ronald Reagan had signed on to a letter doing something they would never have imagined doing: publicly criticizing the president of the United States.

They were objecting to President Trump's announcement that he was stripping the security clearance of Brennan, who was CIA director under President Obama.

  • “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [the Russia investigation] is a sham,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal. “And these people led it!”

And there may be more coming ... The WashPost's Karen DeYoung and Josh Dawsey report: "The White House has drafted documents revoking the security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the [Russia] investigation."

  • "Trump wants to sign 'most if not all' of them, said one senior White House official."
  • "[C]ommunications aides ... have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles."

The letter's startling roster includes former CIA directors Webster (Reagan, George H.W. Bush), Gates (George H.W. Bush), Tenet (Clinton and George W. Bush), Goss (George W. Bush), Hayden (George W. Bush), Panetta (Obama) and Petraeus (Obama).

  • "As former senior intelligence officials, we feel compelled to respond in the wake of the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances," the letter begins.
  • The addition of this "subject to" was one of the late edits: "You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and ... not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information."

Nick Shapiro — a former CIA deputy chief of staff in the Obama administration, who helped orchestrate the letters — tells me that a major concern of many of the signatories was President Trump's implicit threat to current intelligence officers:

  • "It’s setting up a system where the national security and intelligence apparatus is being told: 'You better just agree with the president, and you can't give him news he doesn't like.'"
  • "That's a very dangerous thing: It's the exact opposite of the climate and culture you want in your intelligence team."

The letter was endorsed by 15 former intelligence officials of the director or deputy director level.

But other CIA alumni wanted to join in. So late yesterday, a second letter was circulated, signed by 60 former CIA officers (analysts, station chiefs, operations officers, a former President's Daily Brief briefer):

  • "Our signatures below do not necessarily mean that we concur with the opinions expressed by former Director Brennan or the way in which he expressed them. What they do represent, however, is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views."
  • Another person coordinating the letters tells me: "[R]equests from many other senior CIA alumni who would like to have signed it are pouring in."

Be smart: Some of the former officials feared they would just inflame Trump, who could point to them as the "Deep State" he rails against. They ultimately decided they couldn't stay silent. But neither letter includes the word "Trump."

  • Go deeper: See the names of everyone who signed both letters.
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Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

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