Two things stand out about the White House’s threat to revoke the security clearances of former senior national security officials: the nerve and the irony.
The nerve is obvious. One of the reasons Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave for President Donald Trump’s concern about security clearances is that former officials have “monetized” their access to classified information.
There is some truth to this. When CIA directors and national security advisers leave government, they usually find work at law firms, corporate boards or consultancies. Part of the reason they’re hired is their active security clearance, which can help attract new clients. But for Trump to lodge this complaint is pretty rich, considering the amount of money the federal government spends at his golf courses and resorts. Talk about monetizing your relationship with the government.
The ironic part is more interesting. The main argument against former officials such as CIA Director John Brennan or Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is not that they have abused their clearances by disclosing state secrets. It’s that they have peddled dubious claims about the president’s connections to Russia, claims whose credibility is bolstered by their speakers’ access to classified information.
Again, the White House has a partial point here. It is unseemly when former senior intelligence officials make appeals to secret knowledge to lodge vague accusations that the president is under the influence of the Kremlin. And yet Trump and his supporters in Congress play a similar game.
Over the weekend, the Justice Department released a heavily redacted document detailing the FBI’s application to spy on Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser. Because of the redactions, it’s hard to know whether the bureau unduly relied on an unverified dossier, funded by the Democratic Party, to obtain the warrant. Nonetheless, both parties now claim vindication.
Trump’s attacks on the national security state and the ongoing investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election rely on just these kinds of appeals to secret knowledge. So do Brennan’s ominously vague tweets against the president.
Revoking security clearances will not make the opposition trust Brennan any less. Nor will it quiet or intimidate other former officials who keep asking what the Russians might have on the sitting president. If Trump wants those questions to go away, there is one thing he can do: Let Mueller finish his investigation.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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