Donald Trump wasn’t particularly enamored with the feedback he received from the U.S. intelligence community after last week’s summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s joint press conference with the Russian president was a disaster from start to finish, but the quote that drew the most ire from lawmakers and intelligence officials was this bit about Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election:
My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think itâ€™s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said itâ€™s not Russia. I will say this, I donâ€™t see any reason why it would be.
Following intense criticism from both sides of the aisle and relentless pressure from the media (including Fox’sÂ Neil Cavuto, who called the spectacle “disgusting”), the President attempted to backtrack, claiming that he meant to say â€œwouldnâ€™tâ€ rather than â€œwould.â€
“That should have been obvious”, he added.
Well it wasn’t obvious to Dan Coats, who said this, hours after the press conference with Putin:
The U.S. intelligence community has been clear in our assessments ofÂ Â RussianÂ meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.
Fast forward to Sunday night and Trump seemed to backtrack on his own backtracking, reverting to his standard line about Russian meddling being a “hoax” an assessment at odds with what he said in an interview with ABC’s Jeff Glor last Wednesday following yet another PR debacle that Sarah Huckabee Sanders was forced to try and sweep under the rug.
That brings us to Monday and now, apparently at wit’s end with criticism from former U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials, Trump is reportedly considering revoking the security clearances of James Comey and John Brennan.
As a reminder, here’s what Brennan said after Helsinki:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
But don’t you think for a second it’s just Comey and Brennan. Here’s the full list:
- Former CIA Dir. Brennan
- Former FBI Dir. Comey
- Former DNI Clapper
- Former NSA Dir. Hayden
- Former National Security Adviser Rice
- Andrew McCabe
The rationale? Well, their criticism of Trump, number one, but also the “monetization” of their security clearances. The New York Times wrote the following on Monday afternoon:
The suggestion was an unusual politicization of the security clearance process and is the latest turn in an effort by Mr. Trump to deflect scrutiny from his meeting last week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he sided with over his own intelligence community in casting doubt about whether Moscow attacked the 2016 presidential election.
Security clearances allow former officials to work with companies on classified programs and provide advice to those firms and sometimes to government agencies. Stripping their clearances could harm their ability to work as consultants and advisers in Washington.
Here’s the clip of Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivering the news:
“Fox News host Tucker Carlson on July 19 called Brennan an ‘out-of-the-closet extremist’ with ‘a documented history of dishonesty’ and said he shouldnâ€™t have a clearance”, Bloomberg reminds you, before noting that today’s news comes afterÂ Republican Senator Rand Paul “said he urged Trump to revoke Brennanâ€™s security clearance at a meeting with the president.”
Earlier on Monday, Sanders appeared on Fox & Friends to tell voters what they’re supposed toÂ believe, parroting the President’s “hoax” characterization from Sunday evening which itself is directly contrary to statements Dan Coats made last week.
Hayden weighed in on Twitter, noting that this will not affect him as intended.
I dont go back for classified briefings (although they occasionally ask me in to offer a view on something). Won’t have any impact on what I say or write.
— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) July 23, 2018
For his part, James Clapper told CNN the following:
This is just a very, very petty thing to do. The security clearance has nothing to do with how I or any of us feel about the president. I donâ€™t get briefings, I donâ€™t have access to any classified information, itâ€™s frankly more of a courtesy.
Well, James, Donald Trump isn’t much for “courtesy.”