I suppose we should call it “the Trump test,” the standard proposed by the Trump White House to justify its decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of the security clearance that has long granted as professional courtesy to those who have held that position.
You see, Brennan’s error was not leaking a top-secret, highly sensitive Israeli spy program to the Russians. Donald Trump did that. Brennan has not held secret discussions with Vladimir Putin, barring all other Americans from the room and refusing to divulge the contents of that talk. That too was Trump. As far as we know, Brennan has not conducted government business on unsecured telephones, as Trump does.
He has not held sensitive national security meetings in the crowded dining room of a public hotel, as Trump did at Mar-a-Lago after North Korea tested an intercontinental missile. He did not allow a Russian state photographer to bring his equipment, unchecked, into the Oval Office, as Trump did.
Brennan has not lied to the FBI about secret contacts with Russian officials, nor has he taken $40,000 in unreported income from the Russian government. That was Trump’s former national security adviser. He has not allowed White House staff to smuggle a recording device into the White House situation room, supposedly the most secure facility on the planet, and then record conversations there. That was Trump chief of staff John Kelly. He has not been accused of beating his two wives and then failing to disclose that behavior on his application form for top-secret clearance, as Trump’s former staff secretary did, keeping his clearance for months after it was discovered.
Brennan has not negotiated high-level agreements with foreign countries, while also attempting to set up billion-dollar private real-estate deals with those countries. That was Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He has not submitted multiple false security-clearance forms in which he failed to disclose foreign business entanglements and foreign contacts, as Kushner did.
No, based on what the White House is telling us, the president has yanked Brennan’s security clearance because in Trump’s opinion, the former CIA director has made “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration,” as well as Brennan’s alleged “lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary.”
That, then, is the Trump test, the grounds on which a security clearance can and should be revoked: a pattern of lying ... “wild outbursts on the internet and television” ... “increasingly frenzied commentary.” You know:
In a later interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump expanded upon that explanation, acknowledging that he had stripped Brennan’s security clearance partly out of anger for Brennan’s role in opening an investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 elections. As CIA director, Brennan no doubt thought it was his duty to investigate such things, but Trump takes a very different view:
“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Trump ranted to WSJ reporters. “And these people led it!”
By “these people,” Trump also means former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and others, all of whom played some role in the Russia investigation and all of whom may also have their clearances yanked.
“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Trump admitted. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”
This action, then, is personal and political, and has nothing to do with national security concerns.* This is Trump using his power as president to act vindictively and vengefully against those who have dared to cross him, to warn those whom he can’t force to sign non-disclosure agreements that he has other means at his disposal to encourage silence. It is the act of an angry third-grader, a third-grader who happens to be trying to run the world.
And I have to ask: Is this the way we’re going to operate now? Is this now the game? When a Democrat becomes president, will that person now strip security clearances from everybody associated with Republican administrations, an eye for an eye until both sides are blind?
I hope not. That would be stupid and petty and vindictive, thus meeting every element of the Trump test perfectly.
*As director of national intelligence, Dan Coats would ordinarily decide whether revocation of security clearance was justified, but Coats learned about this decision the same time the rest of us did. This was solely a White House initiative.