After having hinted that he would do so back in July, President Trump today revoked former Director Central Intelligence John Brennan’s security clearance. The announcement was read by Press Secretary Sanders:
"I’ve exercised my constitutional authority to deny Mr. Brennan access to classified information,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, revoking the security clearance of former Obama administration CIA director John Brennan. pic.twitter.com/ExjpwfIGgm
— POLITICO (@politico) August 15, 2018
In July, the White House announced that it was considering taking such action, which amounts to an unprecedented use of presidential authority to punish political rivals. At the time, critics quickly seized on the announcement, even as those under consideration downplayed the effect losing their clearances might have.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was not consulted on revoking Brennan’s clearance, an official with knowledge told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. Coats is the top intelligence official working in government and was appointed by Trump.
Sanders’ statement Wednesday cited the CIA’s infiltration of Senate computers during Brennan’s time at the helm of the agency as a reason for the decision, adding that Brennan has “recently leveraged his status” as a former official to “make a series of unfounded allegations” about the administration, which she called “increasingly frenzied commentary.”
So what does it mean? In the short term the reactions will probably fall along the lines of what the responders already thought about President Trump. Critics will claim Brennan as patriotism incarnate for opposing the president and being oppressed while MAGA land will paint him as a traitor, or worse, for defying the president.
In reality it is mostly a symbolic gesture. Most of the targets from President Trump’s July list of potential revocations no longer have clearance. Brennan would have been entitled to retain his for 5 years, unless some unknown measures were taken, which would have expired January 2022. Some will cry out about Brennan’s “free speech” being infringed on, but security clearances are not silencing. The experts will argue over the particulars, but security clearances and classified information is established as within the discretion of the executive, so any pushback would be limited. Even James Clapper, also subject of the Trump Administrations ire for his outspoken criticism, admits the president can do so as he pleases:
“I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it,” (Former Obama DNI James) Clapper said on CNN immediately after Sanders’ briefing.
“There is a formal process for doing this,” he added. “But, you know, legally the President has that prerogative and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that’s a terrible precedent and it’s a really sad commentary and its an abuse of the system.”
Hayden, meanwhile, indicated being stripped of his clearance would be of little consequence to his commentary.
“I don’t go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write,” he tweeted.
The CIA declined to comment on the announcement.
In short, it’s a very Trump-like thing to do; Small on consequence, big on turmoil caused, and comes off as petty and personally motivated.