President Trump wants to revoke the security clearance of several ex-intelligence chiefs, Sarah Sanders said in a press conference Monday. Funny thing is, some of the people on the list don’t even have security clearances anymore.
The White House Press Secretary told reporters that Trump is looking to take access to sensitive material away from former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former NSA Director Michael Hayden, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. GOP Sen. Rand Paul had tweeted earlier in the day about revoking Brennan's clearance after he slammed the president, and Sanders was responding to a press question about that.
Maybe not coincidentally, these high-level intelligence officials have something in common: They criticized the president after the Helsinki summit last week where he said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community regarding Russia meddling in the 2016 election. The president has since backtracked his comments, saying he got tripped up by the double negative.
“The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearances because they’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and their security clearances and making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate,” Sanders said in the press conference, without elaborating on how they have politicized or monetized their clearances. (Top intel officers typically keep their clearance so they can consult with their successors during emergencies.)
But two of these men don’t even have security clearances anymore. Andrew McCabe's security clearance was deactivated when he was fired in March, his spokesperson Melissa Schwartz tweeted, and Comey lost his clearance, too, according to Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings and the editor in chief of Lawfare. The Trump administration’s job is already done (by the Trump administration).
“I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that's about all I'll say about it,” Clapper said in an interview with CNN after the press briefing. “There is a formal process for doing this. But, you know, legally the president has that prerogative and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that's a terrible precedent and it's a really sad commentary and it’s an abuse of the system.”
The announcement came shortly after Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted that he planned to speak with Trump about removing Brennan’s security clearance — and after the meeting, Paul seemed to take responsibility for the president’s move.
“Just got out of WH meeting with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “I restated to him what I have said in public: John Brennan and other partisans should have their security clearances revoked.”
Trump’s administration has a rocky history when it comes to obtaining their own security clearances. Dozens of Trump own officials lack full clearances, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump staff secretary Rob Porter, who worked in the key role for a year with only interim security clearance until resigning in February amid abuse allegations.
Cover image: Donald Trump has once again become a figure of fun online for an all-caps tweet warning Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire URN:37709771 (Press Association via AP Images)