David Jackson USA TODAY
Published 10:00 p.m. UTC Jul 23, 2018
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is exploring “mechanisms” to revoke security clearances for former U.S. officials who have criticized him for his handling of the Russia investigation and his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday.
Sanders said the administration is reviewing clearances for former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director director James Comey, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.
“They politicize and in some cases actually monetize their public service and their security clearances in making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia,” Sanders said.
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Brennan, who worked in senior roles in President George W. Bush’s administration and was a CIA director under President Barack Obama, offered particularly incendiary criticism of Trump’s handling of his meeting in Helsinki with Putin.
After a news conference in Helsinki in which Trump appeared to favor Putin’s denials over the findings of the intelligence community, Brennan wrote on Twitter that the president’s performance was “nothing short of treasonous.”
Security clearances can allow government officials to work with companies on classified defense programs and advise private contractors. They also can be something of a professional courtesy, allowing former national security officials to talk to their successors.
Having a security clearance does not entitle anyone to access to classified information.
Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, told CNN his clearance “has nothing to do with how I or any of us feel about the president. And I don’t get the briefings. I don’t have access to classified information.”
Susan Hennessy, executive editor of the blog Lawfare, tweeted that “former high-ranking national security officials typically stay in access in order to support their successors and provide insight and continuity when necessary.”
In announcing the review of security clearances, Sanders said that “making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.”
Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for McCabe, said in a statement that his clearance “was deactivated when he was terminated, according to what we were told was FBI policy. You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps.”
Hayden tweeted: ”I don’t go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he has urged Trump to revoke clearances because “public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking-head fees.”
Republican consultant Liz Mair said, “Using executive authority to punish critics sets a bad precedent and looks abusive and overpunitive,” and the Trump administration “already has a bad rap where that’s concerned. Why worsen it?”
Asked whether the administration would look into any security clearances for Obama himself or Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders said: ”I’m not aware of any plans for that at this point.”
It’s not known how Trump might revoke the clearances, if he wants to move forward.
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, said Trump probably has the legal authority to do it, given his status as commander-in-chief. As a technical matter, he might have to order the agencies that granted the clearances to terminate them.
“He might encounter resistance at that point,” Aftergood said, if the requests are seen as some kind of “vendetta.”
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