- Thomson Reuters
- Democratic politicians and national security experts were up in arms over the news that President Donald Trump was revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
- The highly unprecedented move was perceived by many to be a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate a prominent critic of Trump.
- Here is a sampling of some of the reactions from top Democrats, lawyers, and national security experts.
Wednesday’s announcement that President Donald Trump was revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan caused an outpouring of shocked, confused, and dismayed reactions from Democratic members of congress, as well as several prominent national security and intelligence experts.
Citing “erratic conduct and behavior” as the reason for Brennan’s clearance being revoked, the White House statement also accused Brennan, who has frequently criticized Trump since leaving the CIA in 2017, of using his clearance to “make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television, about this administration.”
While making the announcement in the Wednesday afternoon press briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was also reviewing the statuses of security clearances for several other former national security officials for potential revocation. Those officials have also publicly criticized Trump.
Democratic politicians and national security experts immediately began expressing their confusion and disappointment for what they view as a politically motivated and even despotic use of political power to punish a dissenter.
Here are the reactions of some of the powerful people who spoke out:
Brennan first responded to the revocation of his clearance in a tweet, in which he referred to the action as “part of a broader effort to suppress freedom of speech & punish critics.”
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
Brennan then discussed the matter further with MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace.
BREAKING: Fmr CIA Dir Brennan responds to President Trump revoking his security clearance
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) August 15, 2018
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Vice Chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the move sets “a dangerous precedent.”
- REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
This might be a convenient way to distract attention, say from a damaging news story or two. But politicizing the way we guard our nation’s secrets just to punish the President’s critics is a dangerous precedent. https://t.co/cXzgrLIwa3
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 15, 2018
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii slammed Trump as “vindictive” and “petty”.
- Alex Wong/Getty Images
How vindictive and petty can he get? https://t.co/9t1zzS3Fnj
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) August 15, 2018
Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland decried Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance as something that would happen in a “dictatorship.”
- Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Trump is now categorizing dissent and free speech as “erratic behavior.” Brennan has served our country with distinction and raised serious concerns about this Administration’s policies. Leaders behave like this in dictatorships, not democracies. https://t.co/1bjZCTWDQ6
— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) August 15, 2018
Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general for the Department of Justice and US attorney, accused Trump of criminalizing free speech. He’s currently representing fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
This has zero to do with national security. This is an Official Enemies List. The offense: exercising 1st Amendment rights. https://t.co/tNLr86S4m5
— Michael R. Bromwich (@mrbromwich) August 15, 2018
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a prominent advocate for expanding civil liberties, called the decision “petty, authoritarian, and non-presidential.”
Abusing the powers of the Office of the President to punish and silence critics, and to change the subject from the damaging disclosures in a new tell-all book: What a petty, authoritarian, and non-presidential impulse. #CIA #Brennan https://t.co/ysJfvWFD8b
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) August 15, 2018
Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer who specializes in security clearance cases, said Trump was acting like a “whiny tyrant”.
There is no reason – none – to revoke the eligibility for access of Brennan or any of these other former officials. If the Trump WH doesn't want them to have "access", they just don't' consult with them.
This is how a whiny tyrant acts, not a President.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) August 15, 2018
Mark S. Zaid, another national security attorney and clearance law expert, called the move “a disgraceful exercise of presidential authority.”
Politics have NOTHING to do with security clearance adjudications (other than violent attempts to overthrow Govt) and @POTUS action to revoke @JohnBrennan's security clearance is pure political payback. This is a disgraceful exercise of presidential authority.
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) August 15, 2018
Just because a President has constitutional authority to take an action doesn't mean it's a prudent or appropriate thing to do.
Using national security as a political weapon is what authoritarian regimes do, not the United States. @POTUS action sets a horrific precedent.
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) August 15, 2018
Zaid is the founding partner of Mark S. Zaid, PC a DC law firm that represents “former/current federal employees, intelligence and military officers, whistleblowers and others who have grievances or have been wronged by agencies of the United States Government or foreign governments,” according to its website.
Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, suggested the seemingly politically motivated revocation could even be an impeachable offense.
This is a partisan and vindictive violation of the First Amendment, designed to shut up Trump’s critics. It won’t work and, worse, it’s a serious abuse of presidential power, arguably a “high Crime and Misdemeanor.” @AriMelber @chrislhayes @Lawrence https://t.co/HNYgMhWs7F
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) August 15, 2018
Both former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden called into CNN to share their reactions to the news.
.@GenMhayden tells @TheLeadCNN of @PressSec announcement: “it looked to me like an attempt to make us change the things we are saying when we are asked questions on CNN and other networks… it’s not going to have that effect.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 15, 2018
"The larger issue here, to me, throughout, has been infringement on First Amendment rights." Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reacts to the news of President Trump revoking former CIA chief John Brennan's security clearance. https://t.co/xDlnIgwEMe pic.twitter.com/VenW1M0p2s
— CNN (@CNN) August 15, 2018
“I will continue to speak out, regardless of whether I have a security clearance. If they are saying that the only way I can speak is to be in an adulation mode of this president, I’m sorry but I do not think I can sign on for that,” Clapper added.
Eric Columbus, a former special counsel in the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, pointed out the troubling consequences this could have for the millions of federal employees and federal contractors who hold clearances.
Let's be clear: yanking Brennan's clearance doesn't matter for Brennan *but* it may have a huge chilling effect on others. Folks who rely on an active clearance for their private sector jobs now might refrain from criticizing the King for fear of losing their careers. Not good.
— Eric Columbus (@EricColumbus) August 15, 2018
But not everyone was unhappy with the decision. A handful of Republican members of Congress spoke out in favor of the president’s decision, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Sen. John Kennedy defends Trump move to revoke Brennan clearance — calling the former CIA director a “butthead.” Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, says: “I don’t have a problem with it at all.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) August 15, 2018
I applaud President Trump for his revoking of John Brennan’s security clearance. I urged the President to do this. Read more here: https://t.co/SAQNTJ1UAn
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) August 15, 2018