President Donald Trump moved to retaliate against some of his strongest critics Monday, threatening to revoke the security clearances of former top officials who have raised alarms about Russian interference in the 2016 election or questioned the president’s fitness for office.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump is “looking to take away” the clearances of half a dozen former senior national security and intelligence officials who served in the administrations of George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Sanders accused them of profiting off their public service and making “baseless accusations” against the president.
It’s routine for the former directors of intelligence agencies and other senior officials to maintain their security clearances, so they can share their expertise with current leaders or be called in for consultations on how a prior administration handled an issue or crisis, current and former officials said. Some former officials also have jobs that require a security clearance.
The officials who Sanders said might have their clearances revoked are former CIA director John Brennan; former FBI director James Comey; former CIA director Michael Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice; former director of national intelligence James Clapper Jr.; and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. (Comey and McCabe no longer have security clearances, according to their representatives, and it wasn’t clear why the White House put them on the list.)
“The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearances because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, actually monetized their public service and their security clearances in making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia,” Sanders told reporters at a regular press briefing. “Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”
Security-clearance experts said while Trump probably does have the authority to unilaterally suspend or terminate a security clearance, no president has ever done so. Words and actions protected by the First Amendment aren’t grounds to take a clearance away, they said.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · John Wagner, Shane Harris, Felicia Sonmez