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.”
But the significant question is whether any competent counterintelligence officer would not have seen, in this constellation of facts, serious reason to believe that the Trump campaign was profoundly vulnerable to Russian manipulation, even (or especially) if the candidate himself didn’t know about it. Just imagine if Manafort or Flynn hadn’t had their Russia ties exposed and now occupied positions of trust in the White House. The Kremlin would surely know how to leverage their secrets.
Trump is now taking his usual unbridled umbrage at comments by former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, which the president then misquoted, that he should be glad the F.B.I. was looking into potential Russian infiltration of his campaign. Of course he should be glad: The Bureau has now twice rescued him, first by reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails on the eve of the election, and then by clearing out the Russian stooges in his employ.
That Trump won’t acknowledge this means he’s either profoundly foolish or, in ways we don’t yet understand, dangerously complicit. I still lean toward the former interpretation — just.
“By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” former CIA director John Brennan said
.. I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”
.. “He seems very susceptible to rolling out the red carpet and honor guards and all the trappings and pomp and circumstance that come with the office, and I think that appeals to him, and I think it plays to his insecurities,” Clapper said.
.. “I don’t know why the ambiguity about this,” Brennan said. “Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our whole process. And to try paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and, in fact, poses a peril to this country.”
.. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came to Trump’s defense, brushing aside the comments of Brennan and Clapper.
“Those were the most ridiculous statements,” Mnuchin said. “President Trump is not getting played by anybody.”.. “He believes that after a year of investigations of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, there is zero evidence of any ballot being impacted by Russian interference,”
.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”
“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”
.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”
.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”
.. a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”
.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”
.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.
.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that
.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.
.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”
.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”
.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.
The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.
.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”
.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.
.. On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.
.. the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.
.. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.
.. The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
.. Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
.. The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
.. The list notably included prominent Obama administration officials, such as James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence (“very pleased”), and Michael J. Morell, who twice served as the C.I.A.’s acting director (“I applaud the appointment”).
.. Mr. Pompeo’s decision to elevate Ms. Haspel is also likely to be seen by the C.I.A.’s rank-and-file as a vote of confidence in their work from their new director, despite Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the intelligence community throughout his campaign and in the months between his election and inauguration.
.. The open disdain with which Mr. Trump mocked the C.I.A., especially after intelligence agencies said they believed that Russia had tried to swing the election in his favor, had raised concerns at the agency of a repeat of the unhappy tenure of a former director, Porter J. Goss.
Trump’s behavior is reminiscent of what tin-pot despots do. I know, for I’ve covered the overthrow of more than I can count.
.. What comes through is a persistent effort by Trump to interfere with the legal system. There’s a consistent pattern: Trump’s contempt for the system of laws that, incredibly, he now presides over.
.. The latest revelation is that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one supplier of American voting software and tried to compromise the computers of more than 100 local voting officials.
.. “Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” said Clapper, a former lieutenant general with a long career in intelligence under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. He added: “I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source — read Russia — and an internal source — the president himself.”
.. Trump has systematically attacked the institutions of American life that he sees as impediments. He denounced judges and the courts. He has attacked journalists as “the enemy of the people,” .. He has publicly savaged Democrats and Republicans who stand up to him.
.. Skimming money meant for kids with cancer? This is cartoonlike. (The family hasn’t responded in detail, although Eric did say that, to him, the critics are “not even people.” He lamented that “morality’s just gone.”)
.. the fundamental question is not just whether the president broke a particular law regarding obstruction of justice, but also whether he is systematically assaulting the rule of law that makes us free.