PresidentDonald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of former FBI Director James Comey, ex-CIA Director John Brennan and other Obama-era national security officials who have criticized him.
Trump has been seething over criticism of his Helsinki summit last week with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and public doubts Trump expressed about U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Brennan called Trump’s performance “treasonous.”
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The president is “exploring the mechanism” to remove their access to classified information because of criticism the officials have leveled against his conduct of relations with Russia, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday.
“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances,” Sanders said. “Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.”
Sanders said Trump also was considering stripping security clearances from James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency; and Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader in the Senate, said he understood Trump’s aggravation with the former officials’ criticism but expressed skepticism about the move.
“I don’t know whether they’ve been abusing their security clearance at all,” Cornyn told reporters. “That’s a very serious allegation, and I want to see what the results are.”
“This is just a very, very petty thing to do,” Clapper said on CNN. “The security clearance has nothing to do with how I or any of us feel about the president. I don’t get briefings, I don’t have access to any classified information, it’s frankly more of a courtesy.”
Hayden said the sanction won’t silence his criticism of Trump.
“I don’t go back for classified briefings,” Hayden said in a tweet. “Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.”
The guidelines covering security clearances don’t permit revocation for political differences, and the former officials could challenge the step through an administrative process, saidMark Zaid, a Washington-based national security lawyer with expertise in security clearances.
“It is completely inappropriate for anyone to lose their security clearance based on political differences,” Zaid said. “To my knowledge this has never been an issue before because no president in their right mind would ever ethically consider taking such an action.”
Still, Trump could simply order agencies to stop providing classified information to the former officials, Zaid said.
Brennan was CIA director under Obama and helped produce the intelligence reports that first found Russia meddled in the election. After Trump’s meeting last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brennan called Trump’s performance “treasonous” andsaid he “is wholly in the pocket of Putin and that his performance exceeded the threshold for impeachment for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’"
Brennan was one of several intelligence officials who showed Trump classified information just before he took office indicating Putin had personally authorized hacking to try and sway the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor,according to the New York Times.
The idea of moving to revoke Brennan’s security clearance gained traction recently in conservative media circles. Fox News host Tucker Carlson on July 19 called Brennan an extremist with "a documented history of dishonesty" and said he shouldn’t have a clearance.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he urged Trump to revoke Brennan’s security clearance at a meeting with the president Monday. Trump is trying to court Paul to vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite reservations the senator has expressed about Kavanaugh’s commitment to privacy rights.
— With assistance by Laura Litvan, and Chris Strohm
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