He Revokes a Persistent Critic’s Security Clearance, Lists Others
Leave it to the master disrupter to invent a new way to publicly undercut a persistent critic, even while trying to distract attention from other bad publicity.
To counter continuing criticism by former CIA director John Brennan, Trump yesterday revoked Brennan’s security clearance.
While he was at it, Trump said he is reviewing security clearances for several other frequent critics, including former Deputy Atty. Gen. Sally Yates, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, former FBI director James Comey Jr. and the newly fired FBI agent Peter Strzok.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the decision at a White House briefing, reading a statement from Trump that accused Brennan of making “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration.”
For those of us on edge about Trump’s steps towards authoritarianism, this move stands out.
Forget the fact that such moves are “not done” in Washington – the government might need seasoned intelligence figures for inclusion on some real problem (not unlike Russia, say, trying to meddle in U.S. elections). Concentrate instead on the fact that these were all people who have annoyed Trump with public criticism. So, the president just flicked away their security clearance – just for personal pique. And he relied on his expansive view of presidential power alone to do so; he did not even tell his own Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and may not have told National Security Adviser John Bolton.
That action won’t silence anyone, of course, but it will keep them from any inclusion in government business or even work for government contractors.
What makes it remarkable, however, is not the mere fact of the revocation, but the idea that Trump did it by dismissing any of the usual procedures for such a move. Those usual procedures involve having a substantive reason, and holding a hearing, even allowing for an appeal. None of the previous government administrations had revoked security clearances for their predecessors’ advisers, regardless of public criticisms.
For those of us now on edge about Trump’s steps towards authoritarianism, this move stands out.
If Trump can do this based on eliminating anyone who offers personal criticisms of him, why can’t he remove Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, or Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III? Why can’t he just reach out to order revocation of security clearances for all Democratic senators? How far does Trump think this new power can take him?
“I never, ever thought I’d see it here in the United States,” Brennan said on MSNBC. “I believe all Americans need to take stock of what is happening right now in our government — how abnormal and how irresponsible and how dangerous these actions are. If Mr. Trump believes this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken.”
Admittedly, Brennan has been pretty outspoken, particularly about the president’s response to the all-things-Russia investigation, but more broadly about how Trump has handled himself in office. Brennan criticized Trump for the language he used to attack Omarosa Manigault Newman, his former top aide, whom Trump called a “dog.” Wrote Brennan: “It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation.”
The New York Times reported that the list of possible revocations also includes Bruce Ohr, a high-ranking Justice Department official, whom Trump has criticized because of his association with Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing damaging information about Trump. Ohr was friends with Mr. Steele, and Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the dossier.
Press Secretary Sanders sidestepped a question about why Trump did not simply fire Ohr, rather than threaten to revoke his security clearance, which would render him unable to do his job. She said she had no personnel changes to announce.
The Washington Post quoted a presidential historian as saying “The public outcry of Brennan being stripped will echo long and far in the annals of American history. It will be seen like McCarthyism — a dark stain on our democracy.”
The revocation drew hurrahs from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) but darts from Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
For myself, I am less concerned with “distraction” or even with next steps for Brennan himself. I see this as one of those steps that we will look back on as a maniacal step towards authoritarian rule using this unique view of powers for the president. It must be challenged.