President Donald Trump is still interested in stripping former government officials of their security clearances, despite the widespread outcry that met Wednesday’s announcement that he had revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s access to classified information, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
Trump has told his advisers that he hopes to move soon as part of an effort to retaliate against those who have criticized him or played a role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry into Russian meddling in the last presidential election. His list of targets, read by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week, includes former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former national security adviser Susan Rice.
Brennan, who served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017 under President Barack Obama, was the first to have his access stripped by Trump. The outspoken critic of the Trump administration struck back at the White House over the move, writing that it was “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge” the president.
The Post, citing two unnamed White House officials, said Trump believed he had “emerged looking strong” after stripping Brennan of his clearances, even as other former intelligence officials rebuked the president for his decision.
“This is putting personal petty politics ahead of patriotism and national security, end of story,” former Secretary of State John Kerry wrote after the announcement. “You expect this banana republic behavior in the kind of countries that the State Department warns Americans not to travel to, but not at home in the USA.”
A dozen other top officials released a joint statement condemning the move late Thursday, writing that Trump was attempting to “stifle free speech.”
Former heads of intelligence and law enforcement historically are allowed to retain their access to classified information after they leave government as a professional courtesy. The system ideally allows future administrations to call upon them should they need someone with expertise, but the arrangement can also prove lucrative for former officials.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, defended the revocation in an interview with the Post, saying that the president didn’t need Brennan’s advice and so his clearance was unnecessary.
“The basis for having it is the president is going to call on you for advice ― if that doesn’t exist, there’s no reason for you to have a clearance,” Giuliani told the Post. “We aren’t prohibiting their First Amendment rights. We are just saying, you don’t get to see top-secret government documents.”
Sanders, reading a statement for Trump on Wednesday, said Brennan had leveraged his status “to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations ... about this administration.”
“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,” Trump said in the statement.