On August 15, 2018, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepped into the White House briefing room to read a remarkable statement: The president had decided to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance. Sanders named other former officials who might soon suffer the same penalty, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former National-Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and the former FBI agents Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.
The motive for the clearance announcement was not concealed: the president’s personal animus against those persons, as declared again and again, especially on Twitter.
“Has anyone looked at the mistakes that John Brennan made while serving as CIA Director? He will go down as easily the WORST in history & since getting out, he has become nothing less than a loudmouth, partisan, political hack who cannot be trusted with the secrets to our country!”
Former senior officials retain their clearance not as a perk, but as a service to the country: so they are available to provide insight and advice to their successors. To use clearances as an instrument of personal retaliation—it upended American norms. Sixty former CIA officials signed an open letter on August 17: “Former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so.”