Monday, July 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to revoke the security clearance of people who want his Russia connections investigated.

At today's press briefing, a reporter from a generally Trump-friendly publication asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders this question:
Thank you, Sarah. Senator Rand Paul today made a strong attempt to vitiate the credibility of former CIA Director John Brennan, saying that he’s — and I quote — “monetizing his security clearance” and that it should be removed from him. He even called on the President to do this. Will the President consider Senator Paul’s suggestion and call for the removal of former Director Brennan’s security clearance?
Sanders apparently expected the question, because her answer was read directly from a prepared script at her lectern.
Not only is the President looking to take away Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into the clearances of [former FBI director James] Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. James] Clapper, [former CIA director Gen. Michael] Hayden, [former National Security Advisor Susan] Rice, and [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe. The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances. 
Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President is extremely inappropriate. And the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.
None of the people Trump is threatening has made any classified information public. All of them have criticized Trump's flirtation with Russia (like a majority of Americans) and his attack on the efforts to bring Russia and its co-conspirators to justice (like a majority of Americans).

Not all of the people Trump is attacking here even have a security clearance at the moment, but there is a reason that retired national security professionals often keep them: they are frequently called on to advise their successors based on secret information they already know. Removing their clearance would effectively make it impossible for these former officials to help the current intelligence community. It also often forms the basis of their post-government work, since a security clearance is an incredibly common work credential. Almost five million Americans have one.

There's also yet another criminal aspect to Trump's attempt to punish these particular people: several of the people threatened today are likely to be witnesses in any trial involving Trump or Trump's handlers on the Russia matter.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Government employees who get security clearances swear an oath to defend the Constitution, not the president's political needs.
  • Using the powers of the government to punish your political opposition is what authoritarians do.
  • Refusing to give political enemies a security clearance is the definition of politicizing national security.
  • Security credentials are meant to be used in the private sector, but Trump complaining about people monetizing their government work is incredibly hypocritical.