On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of at least six former national security and intelligence officials who have been publicly critical of his administration.
“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service,” Sanders said. “Making baseless accusations of an improper relationship with Russia is inappropriate.”
Among the names she listed: Former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden.
The impetus for this announcement appears to be Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who, weirdly, has become one of Trump’s closest Senate allies. (Paul and Trump competed against one another in the 2016 Republican primaries.)
“Just got out of WH meeting with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul tweeted at 3 p.m. “I restated to him what I have said in public: John Brennan and others partisans should have their security clearances revoked. Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees.”
This is a dumb idea that Trump should not pursue. Here’s why:
1. Several of the people named by Sanders either have already had their clearances revoked (McCabe, Comey) or no longer attend classified briefings (Hayden and Clapper). So this is something of a toothless threat from the get-go.
2. There’s a double standard here. Former intelligence official Michael Flynn retained his security clearance after being removed from his post in the Obama administration. Trump had no problem featuring Flynn at campaign rallies even as Flynn was building up his own business based in no small part on his experience and access.
3. Trump would be cutting off an important arm of the intelligence community – its former employees. As CNN’s Barbara Starr notes, one of the main reasons these ex-officials retain their security clearances is so that current intelligence operatives can consult with them, taking advantage of decades of institutional wisdom.
4. A little something called “free speech.”
None of the above means Trump won’t go through with the revocation of security clearances of the half-dozen intelligence officials. He just might because, well, he can. And because it’s in keeping with his view – and the broader view of the Trump base – that the so-called “deep state” burrowed within the federal government is at war with the President.
The Point: At best, Trump would be cutting off his nose to spite his face here. At worst, he’d been hamstringing the intelligence community for the foreseeable future.