Russian interference: Trump mulls revoking security clearance of Obama-era officials

US President Donald Trump is mulling over revoking the security clearance of former national security officials, mostly from the Obama administration

world Updated: Jul 24, 2018 10:11 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Russia,Donald Trump,US President
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Made in America" products showcase in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, July 23, 2018.(Bloomberg)

US President Donald Trump is mulling over revoking the security clearance of former national security officials, mostly from the Obama administration, who have been critical of his widely perceived reluctance to confront President Vladimir Putin on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove (the) security clearances because they’ve politicised and, in some cases, actually monetised their public service and their security clearances,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at her regular news briefing on Monday.

It was extremely inappropriate of these officers to make “baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president”, she added.

On Trump’s list are Obama administration’s CIA director John Brennan, director of national intelligence James Clapper, FBI director Jim Comey, national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Incidentally, General Michael Hayden – who headed the CIA and the NSA in the George W Bush regime – is also on the list.

While all of them have been bitterly critical of Trump on Russia, three – Clapper, Brennan and Comey – were in a group of intelligence community chiefs who gave him their assessment of Russian meddling in January 2017, just days before he took office. Comey had hung back to tell Trump of the controversial dossier that said – without any evidence found or cited yet – that Russia has some comprising material on Trump from his visit to Moscow in 2013.

Brennan, who has been scathing in his attacks on Trump, went as far as to call the president’s controversial news briefing with Putin in Helsinki “treasonous” and “imbecilic”.

Comey and McCabe have a different history with the president, who had both of them fired. And he has since been especially critical of McCabe, accusing him playing a partisan role in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as the US secretary of state.

Security clearance for formal intelligence officials allows them access to classified information, enabling them to continue to work with serving officials and help them with their years of experience and knowledge. But it also helps them advise and work with private sector agencies that deal with classified programmes.

Critics said this weaponisation of security clearance to deal with critics is unprecedented and specially problematic, given that it is being considered by an administration that has struggled with security clearance questions – especially for senior officials such as senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

At least two former Obama officials in the crosshairs, Comey and McCabe, don’t have security clearance. Comey told a friend, Benjamin Wittes, in a text – which he quoted in a tweet – that he had been “read out” when he left the government. McCabe’s security clearance was deactivated when he was fired.

Brennan, Clapper, Hayden and Rice presumably have theirs intact, but only thus far.

“Well, it’s interesting news,” Clapper said on CNN, on which he appears frequently as a guest expert. “I’m reading it and learning about it just as you are. I think it is, off the top of my head, a sad commentary—for political reasons—this is a petty way of retribution, I suppose, for speaking out against the president, which I think on the part of all of us, are borne out of genuine concerns about President Trump.”

“I don’t go back for classified briefings,” Hayden wrote on Twitter. “Won’t have any effect on what I say or write.”

The president’s move drew criticism accompanied by obvious comparisons. “This is what totalitarianism looks like,” Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono said on Twitter.

And Richard Haas, a Republican who served in the George W Bush administration and who now heads the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote also on the microblogging site: “It represents a degree of politicisation and a misuse of power that we associate with Erdogan’s Turkey, not with the United States.”

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 10:10 IST