President Donald Trump may revoke the security clearances of former CIA Director John Brennan and several other former intelligence and national security officials.
At a press conference on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that in addition to Brennan, the president is considering revoking clearances for former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director and NSA Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Sanders claimed the six former intelligence officials have “politicized and in some cases monetized their public service,” adding that “making baseless accusations of an improper relationship with Russia is inappropriate.” She did not say when the administration would make a decision.
But Sanders’ claims have sparked widespread backlash. In an email, former top Brennan staff Nick Shapiro told Vox, “John Brennan hasn’t made one penny off of his clearance. Not one thing he has done for remuneration since leaving the government has been contingent on him having a security clearance. One doesn’t need a security clearance to speak out against the failings of Trump.”
The officials Sanders listed have all criticized Trump and his administration or come under fire from Trump in the past.
After Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week at a press conference in Helsinki when Putin said that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 US election, Brennan responded by tweeting that it was “nothing short of treasonous”:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Comey has also been highly critical of Trump after the president fired him last year. In an interview with ABC News in April, the ex-FBI chief said Trump was “morally unfit to be president.”
However, it seems like Sanders may have misspoken, or the White House failed to check beforehand: Comey and McCabe have apparently already had their security clearances revoked.
“Andrew’s security 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,” McCabe’s spokesperson, Melissa Schwartz, said in a statement.
The New York Times also reports that Comey has had no security clearance for about a year, according to a person briefed on the matter.
After the controversy erupted, several of the intelligence officials responded to Sanders’ claims. In an email, Hayden told Vox, “I dont [sic] go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.”
Clapper also responded to Sanders’s claims on CNN, saying that “this is just a very, very petty — a petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it.”
And House Speaker Paul Ryan was also critical of Trump’s threats. “I think he’s trolling people, honestly,” Ryan told reporters on Tuesday. “This is something that is in the purview of the executive branch.”
After the news, people tweeted about the value of security clearances and what such a move could actually mean.
Context for security clearances: All former CIA (and NSA / FBI / DNI) Directors hold a security clearance since they might need to be consulted on important matters and so they can review their former files
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) July 23, 2018
Security clearances are a valuable commodity. By making this threat, @realDonaldTrump is seeking to levy a financial penalty on @JohnBrennan and Clapper. There are also public policy reasons that former intel leaders remain cleared–so they can help their successors.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) July 23, 2018
Also, former high-ranking national security officials typically stay in access in order to support their successors and provide insight and continuity when necessary. https://t.co/EoYvBxJOjW
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) July 23, 2018
Before the press conference on Monday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he was meeting with Trump to request that Brennan’s security clearance be revoked. The former CIA director now works as a national security and intelligence analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
When a reporter asked whether the Trump administration was considering revoking the security clearances of former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders said she was “not aware” of any plans to do so.
Alex Ward contributed reporting to this story.