In the latest Trump administration effort to wage war on the president’s critics in the federal intelligence community, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a strange announcement today, as reported by the Washington Post:
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the officials being examined are former CIA director John Brennan; former FBI director James B. Comey; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
“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.
The idea seems to have come from Senator Rand Paul, who this morning did a rage-tweet about Brennan, who drew GOP fire last week for calling the president’s performance in Helsinki “treasonous.”
The “monetizing” business appears to be based on the idea that Brennan is making money from speaking fees and media appearances that he wouldn’t get if people didn’t think he was listening in on the president’s most sensitive communications. That might be true if said people had no idea how security clearances work. Even if Brennan is cleared to receive highly sensitive information, nobody has to give it to him, and if someone in Trump World is doing so (and there’s no actual evidence this is happening), then that might be the problem the White House should look at.
If the Brennan security-clearance revocation looks like a dumb (or more likely, just emptily vengeful) idea, at least it would be real. Comey and McCabe do not appear to have security clearances to revoke.
Comey hasn’t had a security clearance for many months, according to a person familiar with the matter.
McCabe’s clearance was deactivated when he was fired from the FBI, said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for McCabe. She said McCabe’s lawyers were told that was according to FBI policy.
A couple of others in the White House hit list still have “courtesy” clearances continued in case their Trump administration successors decide they need to consult with them (again, it’s a matter of what they are and aren’t given, not what they are “cleared” to read or hear), which apparently they haven’t.
We haven’t heard from Susan Rice yet, but again, it’s unlikely anyone is giving her classified information, even if she’s still cleared to review it, and it’s equally unlikely that anyone listening to her thinks she is.
So what’s going on here? It’s rather transparently an effort to insinuate that Trump’s intelligence-community critics are doing something disreputable or even criminal without having to go to the trouble of alleging anything in particular. An expired or unusable security clearance has nothing to do with why people pay attention to any of these critics. The actual reason is that they are emissaries from a pre-Trump world with very different standards of truth, information-gathering, and even patriotism. They don’t need any secret scoop to figure out the threat Trump poses to the values and interests they were trained to revere.