U.S. president Donald Trump may strip several former administration officials of their security clearances, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday. That threat may prove a paper tiger: two of the six cited relinquished them upon leaving their positions at the FBI, and at least one other said he doesn’t require it.
Sanders said six former officials had “politicized” and “monetized their public service,” pointing to statements made following Trump’s heavily criticized private meeting and public appearance with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week. Critique and even condemnation arose across the American political spectrum, forcing Trump to walk back, deny, and reverse some of his statements, only to reverse some of them once again.
The administration said it is evaluating clearances for former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, and former director of national intelligence director James Clapper, Jr., as well as Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice; Michael Hayden, who headed up the CIA and the National Security Agency while George W. Bush was president.
Such clearances have value, allowing former officials to work on projects in private industry that require security vetting, as well as provide advice and consulting. Before the Trump administration, previous officials routinely provided pro bono input to current occupants when asked. According to several reports, it’s rare for clearances for White House staff to be withdrawn. Meanwhile, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly lacks the highest security clearance, even after months of delay in turning his temporary clearance into a permanent one.
Hayden tweeted that “I don’t go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.” Clapper spoke on CNN after Sanders’s statement, and said, “I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it.” He noted it was a president’s prerogative, but that it’s “a terrible precedent, and it’s a really sad commentary, and it’s an abuse of the system.”
Former FBI officials Comey and McCabe, however, didn’t retain security clearances, both noting it was standard policy to give them up when departing the agency. Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog and a friend of Comey, posted on Twitter that Comey confirmed he had his clearance revoked per normal practice. McCabe’s spokesperson, Melissa Schwartz, said on Twitter, “Andrew McCabe’s security clearance was deactivated when he was terminated.”
It’s unclear what triggered Trump to have his press secretary deliver these remarks, but earlier in the day, Sen. Rand Paul tweeted that he told the president on Monday, “John Brennan and others partisans should have their security clearances revoked.”
Democratic Sen. Adam Schiff said on Twitter, “Politicizing security clearances to retaliate against former national security officials who criticize the President would set a terrible new precedent.”