There’s no other way to interpret the plan by President Donald Trump to remove the security credentials of some of his fiercest critics as anything but a retaliatory response against those who challenge his authority, and a hypocritical one at that.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday announced that the administration was “exploring” the possibility of removing the security clearances of at least six officials who served during the time of former President Barack Obama.
These individuals include: former CIA Director John Brennan; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; former FBI Director James Comey; former National Security Adviser Susan Rice; Retired Gen. Michael Hayden; and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Sanders offered two reasons for why the administration was considering revoking these individuals’ clearances. According to Sanders, these six have “politicized and in some cases monetized their public service,” essentially using their clearances for monetary gain. She also cited the criticisms of the president they’ve made, with regard to the ongoing Russia drama he’s embroiled in, to justify the move.
“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence,” Sanders said.
The six who were named by Sanders have indeed been highly critical of Trump. Brennan, for instance, said his comments during the Helsinki summit alongside Russia President Vladimir Putin — in which Trump suggested he held little faith in the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessments that the Kremlin was interfering in our elections — crossed the line of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” warranting impeachment by Congress.
Hearing about the possibility of having his security clearance revoked, Clapper remarked that it was a "sad commentary" of how the president behaves.
"For political reasons this is a petty way of retribution," he added.
Clapper elaborated that the move would be symbolic more than anything else.
"I don’t get the briefing. I don’t have access to classified information," he explained during an interview on CNN. "It’s frankly more of a courtesy that former senior officials get the security clearance. [I] haven’t had a case of using it. [It] has no bearing on my regard, or lack thereof, for President Trump or what he’s doing."
Although Clapper suggested in his remarks that the move seemed like political "retribution," Sanders in her earlier remarks stopped short of saying as much.
“No, I think you are creating your own story there,” she responded after being asked by a reporter whether that was the case. “The president doesn’t like the fact that people are politicizing agencies and departments that are specifically meant not to be political.”
Sarah Sanders: "Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the security clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe...because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service" pic.twitter.com/Gt3cZipbtc— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 23, 2018
Yet Trump didn’t seem to mind much, while on the campaign trail at least, when Gen. Michael Flynn constantly derided Hillary Clinton at rallies for the GOP candidate. Flynn had, after all, received a security clearance from former President Barack Obama, and was using his former position as a general to bolster support for Trump, leading the businessman’s crowds in chants of “lock her up” at various appearances.
So, it seems that Trump’s justifications for revoking several Obama-era officials’ security clearances are hypocritical, to say the least. It’s all fine when an individual who has these types of clearances makes an attack against an opponent of Trump, but as soon as someone else with these same credentials levels criticism against him, it’s suddenly an egregious abuse that cannot stand.
The president is only concerned with one thing: discrediting otherwise qualified individuals who have a larger understanding of the issues, and who regularly demonstrate his inability to lead on them. It’s not their fault that he’s an inept leader, but Trump is, apparently, fully prepared to punish them for pointing out his failures.