Yesterday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that President Trump was revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan. Because Brennan has been a frequent critic of Trump, it was criticized as retaliatory and a violation of free speech.
Who is John Brennan?
John Brennan worked in U.S. intelligence for more than 25 years, serving under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He was President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and planned the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, which resulted in the terrorist leader’s death.
Brennan attracted attention early in the Trump administration when testifying before Congress about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. He spoke about Russians attempting to suborn Americans to their cause — and that they had been in contact with both presidential campaigns — warning, “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is a bit too late.”
Brennan has been critical of Trump’s foreign-policy strategy (or lack thereof), which came to a head after Trump’s meeting and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Brennan tweeted that Trump’s deference to Putin was “beyond treasonous.”
Why was John Brennan’s security clearance revoked?
Many view Trump’s action as an attempt to punish one of his critics, finding it reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” Sanders announced that Trump was also considering revoking the clearances of several others, all critics of his, including former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former acting attorney general Sally Yates.
Sanders said it was due to Brennan’s “erratic” public statements — ironic because Brennan critiqued Trump for undermining U.S. foreign policy with unpredictable tweeting — and monetization of his former office and security clearance. A reporter asked her to provide an example of that monetization, and she did not.
Reporters quickly noticed that the White House statement on revoking Brennan’s clearance was dated July 26, nearly three weeks ago, raising the prospect the action was taken to distract from Trump’s latest controversy (in this case, accusations of racism and the release of White House tapes by former official Omarosa Manigault Newman).
What does it mean?
Former high-ranking officials in previous administrations often retain security clearances in case the new administration needs their advice or background information on ongoing classified issues. It allows the officials to be “read out,” or briefed, on where things stand presently. Without the clearance, Brennan will not be able to be part of any such consultations.
Some fear Trump meant to send a message to his critics: Say nice things about the president or else. “I mean, the way that Sarah Huckabee Sanders rolled this out was almost in a tone to be threatening to the rest of us,” said Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, on CNN Wednesday night. “In other words, it looks to me like an attempt to make us change the things we are saying when we’re asked questions on CNN or other networks, and I, frankly, for those of us who appear routinely on air, it’s not going to have that effect.”
On Wednesday, Brennan tweeted: “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.”
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