WH press secretary Sarah Sanders says President Trump has revoked former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance.
— Ben Siegel (@benyc) August 15, 2018
— Shelby Holliday (@shelbyholliday) August 15, 2018
The WH Press Secretary just ran off a long list of individuals whose security clearance the president is now reviewing.
They all have one thing in common: They have been critical of the president.
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) August 15, 2018
The official reason given by the Press Secretary is that the President has decided to revoke DCI (ret) Brennan’s clearance because of his erratic behavior. The Press Secretary also announced that the President is reviewing the clearances of DNI and Gen (ret) Clapper, former FBI Director Comey, DCI and Gen (ret) Hayden, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, APNSA and AMB (ret) Susan Rice, former FBI staff lawyer Lisa Page, former FBI Director of National Security and Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Peter Strzok, and Bruce Ohr who is still serving in a senior executive position at the DOJ.
DNI Coats does not appear to have been consulted.
Official with knowledge says DNI Coats was not consulted on revoking clearance
An official with knowledge tells CNN's Jim Sciutto that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was not consulted on revoking the clearance of John Brennan
— Kristin Donnelly (@kristindonnelly) August 15, 2018
This is all being done outside of the normal clearance review and adjudication process. Here are the actual guidelines for determining a person’s eligibility to hold a clearance (full descriptions at the link):
- Allegiance to the United States
- Foreign Influence
- Foreign Preference
- Sexual Behavior
- Personal Conduct
- Financial Considerations
- Alcohol Consumption
- Drug Involvement
- Psychological Conditions
- Criminal Conduct
- (mis)Handling Protected Information
- Outside Activities
- (mis)Use of Information Technology Systems
All of these are then reviewed and considered together under the whole person concept.
Brad Moss, whose law practice specializes in dealing with matters of contested security clearances and national security, wrote an article about this possibility for Lawfare about three weeks ago:
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s announcement that President Trump is reviewing potential mechanisms by which to revoke the security clearances of several former senior government officials has—not surprisingly—set off a cascade of questions over if and how the president can accomplish this. The prospect became even more complicated when Sanders clarified that the president’s specific gripes with these particular former officials—former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe—was not tied to instances of security violations or unauthorized dissemination of classified information by those individuals.
Instead, Sanders clarified, Trump is considering steps by which their clearances can be revoked because “they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances,” as well as “ma[de] baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President.” In 11 years of representing civilian employees, military personnel, political appointees and government contractors in security clearance proceedings, I can say with certainty that these types of “allegations” are nothing like anything I have ever seen in a memorandum outlining bases for denying or revoking a security clearance.
But might those nevertheless be valid bases upon which to revoke someone’s clearance? Can the president pull this off? As a colleague of mine who still works for the government would say, “it depends.”
Much more at the link, including a detailed description of the three potential ways the President may take to do this and what procedural safeguards may be brought into play by DCI Brennan. Right now, this is Moss’s analysis:
Trump must be doing this as part of his inherent Article II authority. No way Gina Haspel put her name on that document. The dossier? Really? https://t.co/Y0uIoHXvaN
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) August 15, 2018
It is unclear if today’s actions are even legal. Regardless, by doing this and considering doing this to eight others with clearances, the President has now fully politicized the clearance process. What remains to be seen is whether this stands. If it does, for the time being, eligibility for, awarding of, and maintaining a security clearance in the US will be a matter of political patronage rather than the established criteria that is currently used. This is going to throw the entire process of adjudication, awarding, and maintaining clearances into complete disarray. Especially if it is unclear whether this is a matter of access or eligibility – one can be eligible to access classified material without actually having authorization (the need to know) to access it.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) August 15, 2018
The President, for now, has seriously damaged the system and the process because he is personally aggrieved by DCI (ret) Brennan’s, as well as the others being reviewed, protected by the 1st Amendment statements about him, his decision making, his policies, and his personal behavior and fitness to serve as President. That these men and women, as well as others who do not yet seem to be in jeopardy – including a number of retired senior military leaders (retired Army General Barry McCaffrey being the most senior and well known) – were actually speaking out is unprecedented. These senior leaders would often be expected to comment on very specific and very narrow issues pertaining to national security; specifically to provide analysis to the news media during periods of crisis. That they’ve so publicly stepped up, regardless of their own personal political and ideological views, to speak out against what they know are the excesses of the President and the members of his administration was already both unprecedented and inspiring. That the President is so petty and thin skinned as to respond this way just confirms what these senior leaders have been saying for months. The real question now is not whether these women and men continue to lead by example and speak out, but whether the damage the President has done to the system of awarding, adjudicating, and maintaining clearances has actually broken the system and is allowed to stand.
Edited to Add at 4:45 PM EDT:
The real issue here is not the breach of protocols, processes, and procedures dealing with clearances, as egregious as that breach is. Rather, the real issue here is the 1st Amendment one. This is the President of the United States directing the power of the state to punish a critic – DCI (ret) Brennan – for engaging in political speech, which is protected from governmental retaliation under the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This is as clear a violation of the oath of office as one could ask for.
We are well off the looking glass and through the map.