In a move described as unprecedented, Trump has used his executive powers to revoke the security clearance of one of his most prominent critics, former CIA Director John Brennan.
The move was announced by White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a press briefing on 15 August. She read from a statement prepared by Trump.
“As the head of the executive branch and Commander-in-Chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information, including by controlling access to it. Today, in fulfilling that responsibility, I have decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” the statement read.
Breaking News: President Trump revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former CIA director who has been a fierce critic of the president https://t.co/gUXxjohdaM
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 15, 2018
“Historically, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service so that they can consult with their successors regarding matters about which they may have special insights and as a professional courtesy.
“Neither of these justifications supports Mr. Brennan’s continued access to classified information. First, at this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behaviour.”
This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent. https://t.co/TNzOxhP9ux
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) August 15, 2018
On Twitter, Brennan wrote: “This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.”
Former Vice-President Joe Biden said the move would not result in Brennan disappearing from the national conversation. “If you think it will silence John, then you just don’t know the man,” he wrote on Twitter.
In the time I have known him, John Brennan has never been afraid to speak up and give it to you straight. Revoking his security clearance is an act unbecoming of a President. If you think it will silence John, then you just don't know the man.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 15, 2018
Why has Trump cancelled Brennan’s security clearance?
The statement went on to outline what the president sees as Brennan’s lack of objectivity and trustworthiness. It refers to a finding that Brennan improperly accessed Senate computers during 2014.
Further, the statement said Brennan had falsely told Congress that intelligence agents had not made use of the so-called Steele dossier in their investigation of the 2016 US election campaign. The contentious dossier comprises 17 memos written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer which contain serious allegations of misconduct and conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
The statement read by Huckabee Sanders also charged Brennan with “wild outbursts on the internet and television”.
On Twitter, Trump quoted from an upcoming book by Dan Bongino that refers to Brennan as a “stain on the Country”.
“John Brennan is a stain on the Country, we deserve better than this.” Former Secret Service Agent and author of new book, “Spygate, the Attempted Sabotage of Donald J. Trump,” Dan Bongino. Thank you Dan, and good luck with the book!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
Brennan has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. On 14 August, he appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word and said Trump “will never understand what it means to be president” and is “dangerous to our nation”.
He also tweeted that Trump’s performance at his contentious summit with Vladimir Putin “rises to & exceeds the threshold of high crimes & misdemeanours” and “was nothing short of treasonous”.
National security attorney Mark Zaid told Vox the politicisation of national security was “alarming”.
“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.
A national security expert on Trump’s threat to revoke clearances: it’ll "set back the entire security establishment" https://t.co/SBKnilfQlS
— Vox (@voxdotcom) August 16, 2018
“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. I mean, that’s what happened back in those times.”
Huckabee Sanders had previously floated the possibility of high-ranking former officials and Trump critics such as former FBI Director James Comey and former National Security Agency Director Gen. Michael Hayden of their security clearances.