President Trump threatened on Monday to strip the security clearances of top former officials who criticized his refusal to confront Russia over its election interference, signaling a willingness to use the powers of the presidency to retaliate against some of his most outspoken detractors.
Among those who could lose access are John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director; Susan E. Rice, the former national security adviser; and James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.
“The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearances because they politicized, and in some cases monetized, their public service and security clearances,” Ms. Sanders said.
The suggestion marked an unusual politicization of the security clearance process by a president who has routinely questioned the loyalties of national security and law enforcement officials and dismissed some of their findings — particularly the conclusion that Moscow intervened in the 2016 election — as attacks against him.
Mr. Trump’s plan to review their clearances appeared to be an off-the-cuff idea — announced just after Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, suggested it to him — rather than a carefully considered proposal. Two of the targets Ms. Sanders cited, James B. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump as F.B.I. director last year, and Andrew G. McCabe, who was dismissed in March as deputy director of the F.B.I., no longer have security clearances.
Bradley P. Moss at Lawfare:
There is a critical distinction that often is misunderstood—even by individuals who have worked in the cleared community for decades—between “access” and “eligibility for access” to classified information. When an individual is granted a security clearance, all that means is that that person has been favorably adjudicated and is “eligible for access” to classified information at a particular level (whether confidential, secret or top secret). That eligibility remains valid for a certain number of years depending on the level of classification for which the individual was favorably adjudicated (for example, a secret-level clearance is valid for 10 years).
Access, in and of itself, is the subsequent step taken by the agency to provide the cleared individual with the means by which to use classified email accounts, utilize classified databases and work in a classified office space. When, for example, Comey was fired, his “access” was immediately cut off. He was “debriefed” from any compartmentalized programs to which he had been accessed, his credentials were taken away and he probably signed several “briefing acknowledgment” forms confirming that he had been debriefed. Comey’s “eligibility,” however, was not affected by his termination. What the White House threatened to do on Monday was to revoke Comey’s eligibility.
There are formal processes for doing so, but Trump seems ready to disregard them.
The president could claim the inherent constitutional authority to revoke the clearance eligibility of each of the individuals without any due process. There is no precedent for such an action, as no president (at least as far as I am aware) has ever personally intervened in the clearance revocation (or approval) of an individual. That has never happened before because past presidents—whatever their flaws or scandals—knew there were certain institutional norms and customs that a president simply should not disturb.
Trump, though, is not burdened with an affinity for respecting institutional norms. He already bulldozed those norms when it came to hiring his daughter and son-in-law, refusing to place his assets in a blind trust, and refusing to disclose his tax returns. What is to stop him from running over another norm?