The White House is looking into revoking the security clearances of former CIA, FBI and ODNI chiefs, arguing that their “baseless accusations” against President Donald Trump amount to monetizing and misusing the privilege.
Former CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former FBI Director James Comey are among the names considered, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday. Security clearances of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and Susan Rice, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, are also under consideration.
They have “politicized, and in some cases monetized, their public service and security clearances,” Sanders told reporters. “Making baseless accusations – of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia – against the president is extremely inappropriate.”
“The fact that people with clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” Sanders added.
Security clearances allow US government officials access to classified documents and files, and they are often prerequisites for government employment. Former officials apparently keep their clearances upon leaving the government.
Brennan, who headed the CIA from March 2013 to January 2017, became a “senior national security and intelligence analyst” at NBC News in February. Last week, he set the tone for both media coverage and political discussion of Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, by calling it “nothing short of treasonous.”
“Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” he tweeted.
Ex-FBI chief Comey chimed in with a tweet urging everyone to “vote for Democrats” in November.
Clapper, who found a new home at CNN after serving as Obama’s director of national intelligence (2010-2017), was far more circumspect in describing the summit, but he still said he was “very nervous” that Trump may have given away US secrets “either at that meeting in Helsinki or in their earlier encounters.”
Brennan’s remarks, in particular, have drawn the ire of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who said he pitched the idea of revoking the former official’s clearance at a Monday meeting with Trump.
“Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees,” Paul tweeted out following the meeting.
Reporters in the White House press room were shocked at the announcement that the possibility was even being contemplated, with one journalist asking Sanders if Trump is simply suppressing the free speech of officials “for saying things about him that he doesn’t like.”
“I think you’re creating your own story there,” Sanders countered, adding that Trump “doesn’t like that people are politicizing agencies and departments that are specifically meant not to be political.”
After the briefing, former Obama staffer Ned Price tweeted that the White House was “seeking to revoke the First [Amendment].”
Calling into CNN, Clapper described the possible measure as “a petty thing to do.”
“The security 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 any classified information,” Clapper said, describing the continuing clearance as a “courtesy” for former officials.
Sanders did not volunteer, and no one at the press briefing thought to ask, the reasons Rice and McCabe were included in the list of officials who might lose their clearances. They have kept a relatively low profile compared to Brennan, Clapper, Hayden and even Comey. However, Rice was involved in “unmasking” the identity of Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, while McCabe signed one of the FISA court applications to authorize spying on former campaign aide Carter Page. The redacted FISA documents were made public on Saturday.