President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of six former senior national security officials, the White House said Monday, moving to punish them for comments purportedly politicizing the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, without specifying.
The threat, which national security analysts described as unprecedented, prompted concerns it was an effort by the president to silence critics.
“An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic, and un-American,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Ms. Sanders told reporters that the administration is looking at the clearances of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA Michael Hayden, former national security adviser and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Ms. Sanders said the individuals, many of whom are outspoken critics of the administration in the news media, lend “inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”
National security officials often go on to work in the private sector, particularly at defense contractors, and need access to classified information to support the government. Former officials keep clearances to assist in ongoing criminal and national security investigations. The clearances offer continuity between administrations on intelligence and national security matters, and also would enable former officials to return to active service in a national emergency and offer expertise.
.. “There really isn’t that much precedent of removing clearance of former national security official unless they are indicted or convicted of some criminal offense,” said Evan Lesser, president of ClearanceJobs, a career website. “But ultimately the president does have the power to grant or revoke clearances really to whomever he wants.”
.. Mr. Clapper, on CNN, said, “This is kind of a petty way of retribution for speaking out against the president.”
This is the victory not only of a Trump personality cult, as it has been described, but also of an ideology, one closer to Putinism than Reaganism.
.. Back then, you may recall, some of the “crazies” — such as national security adviser Michael Flynn — had left the White House, and supposed pragmatists had taken charge: H.R. McMaster for national security, Gary Cohn for economics, Jared and Ivanka for — well, for general reasonableness.
.. There was talk of working with Democrats on infrastructure. Trump wanted to help the “dreamers,” those blameless young immigrants brought to this country as children. It seemed that existing international agreements — NATO, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Paris climate accord — might be preserved, with some face-saving adjustments. Trump was still the politician who had spoken tolerantly on LGBT issues.
.. The White House defines itself and prepares to motivate its voters by the “enemies” it constantly creates, refines and rediscovers, including African American athletes, the press (“Our Country’s biggest enemy,” in a recent Trump tweet), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“very dishonest & weak”), and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (directing a “Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats”). Also: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Democratic leaders in the Senate and House, former FBI director James B. Comey, his own attorney general, his deputy attorney general . . . The list will never end.
.. But Bannonism is not just a snarling attitude. It encompasses a contempt for democracy and a respect for authoritarianism. When Trump refused to sign a statement of solidarity with the world’s other six leading industrial democracies and then proceeded to slather praise on North Korea’s dictator (“a tough guy . . . a very smart guy”), this was not just a sign of personal pique or favoritism: The U.S. president raised questions in the minds of other leaders about whether the concept of the West itself can survive his presidency.
.. It encompasses an “America First,” for-me-to-win-you-have-to-lose philosophy
.. It encompasses a contempt for immigrants, for outsiders of any kind. Certainly it is possible to support lower levels of immigration without being a racist. But to countenance the deliberate policy of tearing away small children from their parents that we are seeing today on the U.S.- Mexico border is consistent only with a worldview that deems Mexicans and Salvadorans somehow less human, less worthy, than white Americans.
..it’s no coincidence that Trump, who boasted about being the first Republican to say LGBTQ in his convention acceptance speech in 2016, has, as The Post’s James Hohmann noted last week, tried to ban transgender people from the military, removed protections for transgender inmates, employees and students, failed to acknowledge Pride Month and disbanded the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. As in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, this revival of bigotry dovetails with an effort to woo the conservative Christian establishment.
.. Finally, Bannonism encompasses contempt for the government itself.
.. his constant disparagement of the Justice Department and the FBI; his at times insultingly unsuitable appointments (such as his personal physician to head the mammoth Department of Veterans Affairs); and his generally cavalier attitude toward staffing. Even today, 17 months into his first term, fewer than half of the 667 key positions tracked by The Post in collaboration with the Partnership for Public Service are filled, and for almost 200 there are no nominees.
.. But another answer came from Trump himself, who said after Bannon’s firing: “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. . . . Steve was a staffer.”
Even discounting for Trump’s normal petulance and self-aggrandizement, there may have been an element of truth in what he said. The anti-democratic, protectionist, anti-immigrant, pro-authoritarian administration that has now taken shape, in other words, is not only Bannonism. It is raw and unvarnished Trumpism, too.
How Washington pivoted from finger-wagging to appeasement.Two important American visitors showed up in Budapest on Wednesday. One was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser who is an admirer of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orban; he addressed a conference on “Europe’s Future ” organized by Mária Schmidt, an Orban counselor with Bannon-esque ideas about maintaining a Christian culture in Europe. Bannon had called Orban “a man of principles” as well as “a real patriot and a real hero” earlier this year... Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, the highest-ranking American official responsible for U.S. relations with Hungary. Mitchell came to usher in a new era of accommodation between the Trump administration and the Orban government... this administration believes that offering high-level contacts and withholding criticism will improve an authoritarian regime’s behavior. For those who know Hungary’s politics, this is appeasement — the victory of hope over centuries of experience... Orban’s odyssey began in 1998 when, during his first term as prime minister, he started to flirt with nationalistic, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments to try to win reelection in 2002... When Istvan Csurka, the head of an anti-Semitic party, blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks (it got what it deserved, he said), the premier declined to dissociate himself from Csurka, despite a White House request to do so... He has since managed to change the Hungarian constitution five times to reduce judicial independence, restrict press freedoms and modify the electoral system to ensure that no viable opposition could ever form against him and his coalition... he still embraces anti-Semitism as a political tool, praising a Nazi-allied wartime leader of Hungary and using stereotypes to cast Jewish emigre George Soros as an outside puppeteer... the pro-government weekly Figyelo recently issued an enemies list of about 200 prominent opposition individuals. Most were local civil society advocates
.. Two Hungarian newspapers, Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon , shut down this spring as advertisers vanished because of their opposition to the Hungarian government, leaving only one print opposition daily.
.. on May 15, when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, received Jeno Megyesy, Orban’s chief adviser on the United States. (Megyesy was also the official point of contact for then-Trump aide Carter Page’s meetings in Budapest during the campaign.
.. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; although Szijjarto has visited Washington an eye-popping seven times in the past 18 months
.. What, if anything, is the United States getting from Hungary for this appeasement? The $12 billion Russian-financed and secretly signed Russian Paks II nuclear plant in southern Hungary is one reflection of Orban’s Russian orientation.
.. Hungary spends only 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest levels for NATO members, despite Trump’s insistence that nations step up their payments.
.. the policy of appeasement signifies abandonment
.. But the hour is late. Orban’s vision has gained considerable appeal throughout Europe.
.. In 2014, when he declared the end of the age of liberalism, he was seen as a pariah; today he is the leader of a xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-American trend that haunts Poland, Austria and Turkey.
.. His hostility to migration, particularly what he calls the “Islamic multitude” that “leads to the disintegration of nations,” is widely shared.
.. He is admired for having built the first wall in Europe — on the Hungarian-Serbian border — to stem the flow of migrants in 2015. (Paradoxically, Hungary used to be admired for tearing down the barrier between itself and Austria, precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall.)
It all stems from President Trump’s contempt for the rule of law.
.. in a quasi-normal political environment, would have led to an impeachment investigation.
.. Richard Nixon earned eternal disgrace for keeping a list of his political enemies, but he, at least, was ashamed enough of the practice to know that he had to keep it secret. Trump, in contrast, is openly calling for the Department of Justice, which he controls, to put his political opponents in jail.
This kind of behavior is a trademark of the authoritarians he admires, like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
.. Trump sent Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, to urge Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, not to recuse himself from supervising the investigation. Trump did so because he felt that Sessions should be protecting him. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
.. Trump asked for loyalty from James Comey, the F.B.I. director, who was supervising the investigation. When Comey equivocated, Trump fired him, then put out a false story for why he did so
.. Trump’s contempt for the rule of law infects his entire Administration
.. Sessions has installed acting U.S. Attorneys in much of the country—including in such high-profile locations as Manhattan and Los Angeles—and senators can’t exert any oversight of them.
.. This gesture of contempt for the Senate’s role in confirmations
.. Trump has nominated many fewer officials to Senate-confirmed positions than his predecessors; instead, Cabinet secretaries have filled these crucial positions with acting or temporary officials who avoid scrutiny