President Trump threatened to take away the security clearances from former intelligence officials like former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, all figures who have been critical of the current administration. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Trump is considering taking away their access to classified information because they are using their clearances to make money. House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about the threat during his Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday.
“I think he’s trolling people, honestly,” Ryan said.
Paul Ryan dismisses Trump's threats to take away security clearances as "trolling" pic.twitter.com/vcDMNvYxw5— Axios (@axios) July 24, 2018
CNN's Dana Bash pushed back at that notion. A political retribution like this is "unprecedented," she said, urging Congress to take it seriously. Bash brought Clapper on for a phone interview, she asked him if he had made any money using his security clearance.
“Not directly,” Clapper said, but he has “benefitted from his 50 years of service.” By “virtue” of that service, he has written books and appeared as a CNN analyst. But, he added that not having a security clearance would have no effect on what he writes, does or says.
Clapper shared a bit of the “longstanding” policy of why former officials maintain their clearances. These former seniors are still offered access to classified information in order “to facilitate consultation with the current incumbents.” Clapper said he’s had occasion to engage with members of the Trump administration, drawing on his experience and background on certain issues.
“Will the republic collapse" if he doesn’t have the clearance? No, Clapper admitted. But, the bigger issue, he said, is that Trump’s threat places his First Amendment rights in jeopardy. Clapper regretted that his rights are being “suppressed” just because of his outspoken political views or criticism of the current president. He then noted an “irony.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, Gen. Michael Flynn, now a former White House national security adviser, led a group of Republicans in a “lock her up!” chant. He was also very anti-Obama. Yet, even when he became this overtly political, “there was never a thought” about ending his security clearance eligibility.
“The double standard speaks for itself,” Clapper said.
Some Republican lawmakers, however, are siding with Trump.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told Fox News there is no reason for former government officials to still have the same privileged access they once had.
“You’re out of the administration, there’s not any reason for you to get access to classified documents anymore.”
Critics, meanwhile, are suggesting Trump's clearance threat is just a way to distract from his unfortunate meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this month.