WASHINGTON — CIA Director John Brennan can breathe a sigh of relief: 40 years after casting his ballot, Congress has let him off the hook for voting for the Communist USA party during the height of the Cold War.
Brennan copped to the vote in little-noticed remarks last week at the Congressional Black Caucus’s annual conference. The spy chief spoke of his stomach-turning fear while undergoing the vetting process to be employed at the CIA in 1980 — strapped to a polygraph during the height of the Cold War, Brennan was asked if he had ever worked with or for a group that was working to overthrow the United States.
“I froze,” Brennan said. “This was back in 1980, and I thought back to a previous election where I voted, and I voted for the Communist Party candidate...we've all had indiscretions in our past.”
Brennan said he came clean about the his 1976 ballot during the polygraph, expecting it to disqualify him from a clearance. But to the director’s surprise, he was offered admission to the agency, and, nearly 40 years later, landed in the top office.
It looks like lawmakers interviewed by BuzzFeed News on Thursday don't mind.
“I think [Brennan’s] the only one who can comment on that,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee leaving a briefing Thursday.
“I really am not interested in how the CIA Director voted decades ago,” said Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) leaving a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing Thursday.
But, Wyden recalled the still-lingering tensions over the Intelligence Committee’s torture report, and the agency’s decision to dig into the computers of its Senate overseers while the investigation was being conducted. And as it turns out, there are still plenty of other reasons some lawmakers want to fire the spy chief.
“I continue to be troubled about his skewed and distorted views about the separation of powers,” Wyden added.
But for the most part, the spy chief’s overseers seemed to prefer leaving 1976 in 1976.
“I think I’m going to let that one go,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) said, declining to comment on Brennan’s self-described indiscretion.
Then again, Thursday was Brennan’s birthday, so maybe everyone was just taking it easy on him.
Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ali Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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