President Trump is considering revoking the security clearance of former Obama-era intelligence officials in a move announced by the White House. If Trump moves forward with this decision, it will most likely be interpreted by analysts as a power abuse to lash out against his critics.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that the president was considering revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, Andrew McCabe, James Comey, and Michael V. Hayden. The decision may also affect former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice and James R. Clapper. Sanders said that these officials had “politicized and in some cases monetized” their access to classified information, especially when it comes to the president’s relations and contact with Russia.
Most of these officials served under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Nonetheless, former Director of the CIA Michael V. Hayden denied these accusations saying that he never gets any access to classified briefings. He added that even though he’s occasionally asked for advice by the intelligence community on a number of issues, this has never interfered in any way with what he says or writes. Hayden warned against this proposed move saying that it will create a “chill that would be bad for the policy development.”
Trump’s decision could be unprecedented in a number of ways. According to Steven Aftergood, head of the Project Government Security and an expert in classification, there was never a time in the US in recent memory that such a decision was taken by a sitting president. He also noted that Trump’s decision could be viewed as an attempt to silence his critics which is something that undermines American democracy. Besides, Aftergood said that the president is sometimes not directly involved in the process of granting and revoking security clearances.
A number of experts think that revoking of security clearances held by top intelligence officials should only be done for security reasons. Stephen Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas, described Trump’s move as political retribution that’s punitive in nature and not at all security based. He even called this an abuse of the president office, reminiscent of some of the abuses witnessed during the Nixon era.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN in an interview that his security clearance had nothing to do with how he feels about the president. He also added that he has never been part of any security briefings or accessed any classified information since he left his position. He called Trump’s move a “very, very petty thing to do.”
A spokeswoman for former FBI Director and Deputy Director James Comey and Andrew McCabe also said that the two no longer had any security clearance. Rice and Brennan have not reacted to these latest developments. The heads of intelligence agencies have always retained their security clearance after they have left office in different administrations. It’s been this way for years but it may change soon.