US president Donald Trump is considering stripping former intelligence officials of security clearances, accusing Obama-era officials of "politicising" and "monetising" their positions and making "baseless accusations" against the president.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the president is "exploring the mechanism" for revoking the security clearance of ex-intelligence chiefs, including former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James Clapper and former FBI chief James Comey.
Speaking at the White House press briefing, Ms Sanders said that many ex-intelligence chiefs had made "baseless allegations" about the president's links with Russia. Former national security advisor Susan Rice, former director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden, and former FBI official Andrew McCabe were also named by Ms Sanders.
Speaking to CNN, Mr Clapper said it was a “sad commentary”, describing the move as a “a petty way of retribution for speaking out against the president which is born out of genuine concerns about president Trump”.
“Security clearance has nothing to do with how I, or any of us feel, about the president,” he said, saying that granting former officials security clearances was a courtesy that did not have any impact on his views of the president.
“To my knowledge I’ve not been presented with any allegations of violation of any rules . . . this is a very very petty thing to do,” he said.
Confirmation that Mr Trump is looking into removing security clearances from some former officials came after senator Rand Paul said he would ask the president to remove the security clearance of John Brennan, whom he accused of "making millions of dollars divulging secrets to mainstream media".
The development emerged hours after Mr Trump attacked his critics on Twitter.
In a series of early morning tweets, the US president criticised the media's coverage of his disputed summit with Vladimir Putin last week. "When you hear the Fake News talking negatively about my meeting with President Putin, and all that I gave up, remember, I gave up NOTHING, we merely talked about future benefits for both countries. Also, we got along very well, which is a good thing, except for the Corrupt Media!"
In an earlier tweet, Mr Trump also seemed to suggest that the Russia investigation was a “hoax”.
"So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election. Why didn't he do something about it? Why didn't he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, that's why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!"
Asked if Mr Trump was now reversing his statement last week that he believed the findings of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, Ms Sanders said that the president had been referring to allegations of corruption between the Trump campaign and Russia, not the fact that Russia interfered in the election.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case have seized 12 audio recordings as part of their investigation into Mr Trump's former lawyer and long-term fixer, US media reported. The recordings, which were previously marked as privileged, were released to investigators, though the content of the recordings is not known. US media reported last week that prosecutors had seized a recording made by Mr Cohen of a conversation he had with Mr Trump two months before the election in which the president discussed payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Separately, a judge in Virginia delayed the trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort until next week, following pleas by the former lobbyist's lawyers.
Mr Manafort, who was jailed last month while he awaits his trial, appeared in the court in Alexandria, Virginia. The court also granted immunity to five witnesses in the trial. They were named on Monday and are all individuals associated with Mr Manafort’s business and property dealings.