Donald Trump revoked the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan Wednesday, warning several other prominent critics they too risk being blacklisted.
In a highly unusually directive, Trump claimed that Brennan -- a former station chief in Riyadh who rose to lead the formidable spy agency -- had become "erratic."
Brennan is a frequent Trump critic. Just hours before this presidential edict, he accused Trump of failing "to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity."
Brennan, who has briefed Republican and Democratic presidents, could now lose access to classified information, a courtesy usually afforded to former senior officials.
The White House has been besieged by a scandal over a former aide's tell-all memoir in recent days and often tries to defuse crises by stoking new controversy.
It said that eight other critical officials could also lose their clearances.
They included former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director and four star general Michael Hayden and ex-FBI director James Comey.
The group was accused -- without details -- of politicizing and monetizing their public service and security clearances.
"Historically former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service so that they can consult with their successors," Trump's statement read.
"At this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr Brennan are now outweighed by the risk posed by his erratic conduct and behavior".
Following the president's summit last month with Russia's Vladimir Putin, Brennan, who headed the CIA under president Obama, described Trump's behavior as "nothing short of treasonous."
The move to pull his security clearance prompted immediate outrage, with former secretary of state John Kerry accusing the president of "putting personal petty politics ahead of patriotism and national security."
"You expect this banana republic behavior in the kind of countries that the State Department warns Americans not to travel to, but not at home in the USA."
National security lawyer Brad Moss said it is not certain that Trump can legally rescind clearances on the grounds stated by the White House.
Hayden said Trump's threat would have "no impact on what I think, say or write."
He went on to tell CNN that "it's almost as if they wanted us to implicitly sign a no disparagement agreement" -- a reference to gag orders which Trump often insists on for civilian staff.