Updated at 5:54 p.m. ET
President Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who has become an outspoken critic of the president.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced the move on Wednesday following an earlier discussion about pulling the clearance held by Brennan and a group of other targets.
“The issue of Mr. Brennan’s security clearance raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets long after their time in government has ended,” Trump said in a statement that Sanders read aloud at the press briefing on Wednesday.
“Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks.”
The enemies list
Trump said he also is evaluating action on the security clearances of other former officials who have been critics or targets of the White House. They include
- former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
- former FBI Director James Comey
- former National Security Agency and CIA Director Michael Hayden
- former acting Attorney General Sally Yates
- former national security adviser Susan Rice
- former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
- recently fired former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok
- former FBI attorney Lisa Page
- Bruce Ohr, a currently serving leader within the Justice Department. Trump and Republicans have faulted Ohr for his contacts with the former MI6 intelligence officer who authored the infamous Russia dossier. Ohr’s wife also worked for the political intelligence firm in Washington that commissioned the dossier, which was underwritten by money from Democrats.
Former national security officials often maintain their security clearances to advise their successors. They also use them in private sector security work. Millions of Americans hold security clearances, many of them in civilian jobs that range from naval shipyards to the national nuclear enterprise.
In the case of Trump’s list, Comey and McCabe are understood to have lost their clearances when they were fired from the FBI; it isn’t clear how many other people he named might have retained theirs or still use them.
Brennan’s post-government activity has included bitter criticism of Trump, including on TV and in Twitter posts that suggest damning revelations about Trump might be around the corner.
Trump argues there is little utility in allowing Brennan to keep his clearance. In justifying his decision, Trump cited misleading testimony Brennan gave to Congress more than a year ago and more recently his regular presence on TV and Twitter criticizing Trump.
“Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television about this administration,” Trump said in the statement.
The clearance-revocation campaign has been gathering steam over the summer since a call on July 23 by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for Trump to punish Brennan.
All the same, at least one important Trump ally did not take the threat of revocations seriously at the time it was first broached. When House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was asked about the idea, he said he thought Trump was just “trolling people.”
Critics fault “Nixonian” tactics
Responding on Twitter on Wednesday, Brennan said Trump’s action “is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out.”
If the goal was to quiet Brennan’s criticism, the result may well be the opposite. “My principles are worth far more than clearances,” Brennan said. “I will not relent.”
Sanders, who read the statement from the podium in the White House briefing room, said the clearance revocation, and the others Trump has threatened, don’t amount to a simple campaign to punish critics.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said the move “smacks of Nixonian-type tactics.”
Warner also suggested that the White House chose Wednesday as the day to announce its Brennan revocation because Trump is eager to change the subject from former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, her tell-all book and the president’s insult-laden response to it, which had been dominating the airwaves for days.
“It might be a convenient way to distract attention, say from a damaging news story or two,” Warner wrote. But, he added, “politicizing the way we guard our nation’s secrets just to punish the president’s critics is a dangerous precedent.”
There was one indication that Trump and the White House had been saving the Brennan clearance revocation until the right opportunity came along: The first statement from the president released on Wednesday was dated July 26.
The White House later distributed a revised version of the statement with the date removed.
Asked via email why the statement was initially dated July 26 but not released until mid-August, a White House official said: “Today is the date of the revocation.”