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Trump Wants To Revoke Security Clearances Of Ex-Officials Who've Criticized Him

Former CIA Director John Brennan and other former top national security officials could lose their security clearance if the White House follows through on a threat made Monday.
Claire Harbage
Former CIA Director John Brennan and other former top national security officials could lose their security clearance if the White House follows through on a threat made Monday.

President Trump is looking into revoking the security clearances of several former high-level officials who've criticized him.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders read a list of officials being considered for revocation of their clearances on Monday and said the White House is "exploring the mechanisms" by which the government might take them away.

A number of former top national security officials have criticized Trump. Former CIA Director John Brennan, for example, said Trump's failure to stand up for the U.S. intelligence community at the Helsinki summit was "nothing short of treasonous."

Some half a dozen officials have "politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances," Sanders said.

She and Trump were picking up a thread from a Republican ally, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who wrote on Twitter that he planned to ask about revoking Brennan's clearance when he met with Trump on Monday.

In addition to Brennan, Sanders named former FBI Director James Comey; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA; former national security adviser Susan Rice; and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Some of the former officials on the list have made "baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia" that "provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence," Sanders said.

Brennan has hinted darkly about revelations that might be in the offing about Trump, among other criticisms; Clapper has likened Trump to an intelligence "asset" being handled by a "case officer" in Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sanders' announcement took place amid the general ongoing flurry over special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is set to go on trial next week in Virginia. Republicans and Democrats are dueling over newly released documents related to the surveillance of a onetime Trump campaign aide.


Clapper fired back on CNN, calling the potential revocation of his clearance based only on his comments "a petty thing to do."

There is a formal process by which clearances can be revoked, Clapper said, but it's predicated on wrongdoing or other set procedures. Cutting off access over a disagreement based on speech would "set a terrible precedent," he said, representing "an abuse of the system."

Hayden also responded on Twitter, saying that the move by the White House would have no "effect on what I say or write."

People who work in national security jobs often can retain access to classified information after they leave government, subject to many of the same restrictions or investigations as government employees.

More than 4 million Americans hold some security clearance and entire industries — supporting the Defense Department, the intelligence community, the nuclear energy infrastructure and more — are based hiring such employees to do contract work for the government.

The government can shut off or take away clearances for people who are suspected of being security risks, or are at risk of being compromised, or who are involved with alleged criminal activity.

In some cases, when clearances go unused, they can stop being active.

It isn't clear who among the people on the White House's list may still have an active security clearance; Comey might not still have his after he was fired by Trump in 2017.

A spokeswoman for McCabe said on Twitter on Monday that he lost his access after he was fired earlier this year as deputy FBI director as part of the inspector general's inquiry into its 2016 investigations.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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