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.”
Mr. Kushner is one of dozens of White House officials operating under interim security clearances because of issues raised by the F.B.I. during their background checks
.. Mr. Kushner, frustrated about the security clearance issue and concerned that Mr. Kelly has targeted him personally with the directive, has told colleagues at the White House that he is reluctant to give up his high-level access
.. In the talks, the officials say, Mr. Kushner has insisted that he maintain his current level of access, including the ability to review the daily intelligence briefing when he sees fit.
.. But Mr. Kelly, who has been privately dismissive of Mr. Kushner since taking the post of chief of staff but has rarely taken him on directly, has made no guarantees, saying only that the president’s son-in-law will still have all the access he needs to do his job under the new system.
“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Mr. Kelly said in a statement the White House released on Tuesday in which he refused to address Mr. Kushner’s security clearance or elaborate on his memo.
It is unclear whether Mr. Kushner would need to review highly classified information. His current portfolio — which includes acting as an intermediary with Mexico, trying to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, participating in an economic dialogue with China and working on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement — seems unlikely to involve major intelligence or national security secrets. But Mr. Kushner, by dint of his relationship with Mr. Trump, has wide-ranging access to the president and the information that he sees, and senior advisers to the president typically require such access to perform their duties.
.. Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump have been critical of Mr. Kelly in conversations with the president, who spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., surveying people about whether he should fire his chief of staff.
The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said his agency first flagged issues with its background check of Rob Porter to the administration in March, a timeline that conflicts with what the White House said it knew about the former aide’s past.
.. Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI last year gave multiple updates to the White House on its findings about Mr. Porter. After sharing a partial report on Mr. Porter in March, the FBI provided its completed background check on Mr. Porter to the White House in July, Mr. Wray said.
.. Last fall, White House counsel Don McGahn told Mr. Kelly there was “an issue” involving Mr. Porter’s clearance, according to an administration official, who said Mr. McGahn didn’t provide many details. Mr. Kelly was surprised to learn that Mr. Porter, 40, had been married before.
The chief of staff, a retired four-star general, also expressed dissatisfaction about the number of White House aides who were operating under interim security clearances. “His view was, ’We would never have this at the Pentagon,” the official said.
On Wednesday, we learned that during a 2017 background check for the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, his two ex-wives both told the F.B.I. that he had abused them
- His first wife, Colbie Holderness, gave the F.B.I. a photo of her with a black eye, a result, she said, of Porter punching her in the face during a vacation in 2005.
- Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, shared a 2010 emergency protective order she’d received after he punched in the glass on her door while they were separated.
.. The White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly knew about these allegations, which are said to be the reason the F.B.I. never gave Porter a full security clearance,
.. Porter’s past was apparently not considered a problem inside the White House until it became public. This tells us quite a bit about how seriously this administration takes violence against women.
.. Kelly reportedly urged Porter not to resign
.. President Trump’s press secretary Sarah Sanders read a statement from Porter calling his ex-wives’ accounts “simply false” and part of a “coordinated smear campaign.”
.. In what was perhaps a rare outbreak of candor by omission, she didn’t bother with a pro forma statement that the White House condemns domestic violence.
.. “I was exposed to a far wider array of classified and sensitive information in the White House job than as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency,”
.. It’s hard to see why Kelly, who was supposed to be the disciplined adult in this administration, would cover for Porter. Unless, that is, he genuinely couldn’t grasp that domestic violence is a big deal.
.. the abuse charges were the origin of Trump’s derisive nickname for Bannon: “Bam Bam.”
.. Andy Puzder, the former head of Carl’s Jr. and Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary.
.. Trump himself was accused of domestic assault by his first wife, Ivana Trump
.. Hurt wrote that Donald Trump became enraged after scalp reduction surgery left him in pain, and blamed his then-wife, who had recommended the doctor.
.. Hurt describes Trump pinning back Ivana’s arms and ripping out her hair by the handful “as if he is trying to make her feel the same kind of pain that he is feeling.” Then, she told friends, Trump raped her.
.. Willoughby described confiding in a Mormon official about her husband’s fits of rage. She was told to think about how Porter’s career might suffer if she spoke out. Powerful people in Washington seem to have been similarly worried, first and foremost, about protecting the ambitious and pedigreed young man.
.. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and in The Daily Mail, the senator categorically dismissed the accusations and, whether he meant to or not, the women making them.
.. “Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name,” he said.
.. Later, after the black-eye photograph of Holderness was published, Hatch issued a statement saying that domestic violence is “abhorrent.” But after that, he gave an interview in which he said he hoped Porter would “keep a stiff upper lip” and not resign. “If I could find more people like him, I would hire them,” said Hatch
.. It’s not really a surprise that Hatch, who once said that Trump’s presidency could become the greatest ever, would treat serious allegations of abusing women as a personal foible unrelated to one’s professional capabilities. You basically have to see things that way to support Trump in the first place.