Sanders said Trump has exercised his “unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information.”
Historically, as a professional courtesy, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to government information after their tenure ends. The longstanding practice is so they can provide insight to their successors on topics they have interest or expertise in, Sanders said.
However, Trump revoked Brennan’s access because he believes Brennan has exhibited “erratic conduct” and questionable credibility, Sanders said.
“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 ... about this Administration,” Trump said in a statement. “Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the Nation’s most closely held secrets and facilitates the very aim of adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.”
Brennan, who served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017, has been an outspoken critic of Trump. The former CIA director has condemned Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the president’s criticism of NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest social inequality. Last night, Brennan called Trump “dangerous to our nation” in an interview with MSNBC.
Brennan said Wednesday that he “will not relent” on his criticism of Trump.
“This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics,” Brennan wrote in a tweet. “It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out.”
Brennan also compared Trump’s behavior to that of dictators.
“I’ve seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats in my national security career. I never thought I would see it here in the United States,” he said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC.
Sanders noted the president is reviewing revocation of access to other people, including McCabe, former FBI chief James Comey, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former FBI agent Peter Strzok.
When asked if the president is targeting his political enemies, Sanders said the White House is reviewing individuals on a case-by-case basis.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rebuked Trump on Wednesday for revoking Brennan’s access.
When Sanders said last month that Trump was considering revoking security clearances for ex-intelligence officials, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) dismissed the news, saying Trump was just “trolling people.” Ryan’s office declined to comment on Brennan’s revoked access.
Clapper, who has held clearance for decades, told CNN last month that if Trump made the decision to revoke security clearances, it would be a threat to free speech.
“The bigger issue to me is the jeopardy to First Amendment rights,” he said. “We’re being suppressed or oppressed because of our outspoken political views or criticism of the current president.”
Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, told Vox that a president revoking national security clearances could set a potentially harmful precedent.
“As far as we know, it is unprecedented that a president of the United States would get involved with a security clearance determination,” Zaid said. “To think that a president would render a clearance decision based solely on an opposing political viewpoint is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.”
Access to security clearances is governed by a 1995 executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton. The order states that someone who has had their access revoked can appeal the decision.
Jen Bendery contributed reporting.
This story has been updated with more background on security clearances and Brennan, tweets from Brennan and Kerry, and a statement from Trump.