Trump: I took away Brennan's security clearance because of Russiagate

Well, partly. From the Wall Street Journal, via New York mag:

In a subsequent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump made that crystal clear, saying he had to move against Brennan and others he holds responsible for the Russia probe.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “And these people led it!”

He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”…

“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Trump said. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

Aaron Blake calls that admission another “Lester Holt moment,” referring to the interview Trump gave last year after firing Comey from the FBI. To that point, the White House’s explanation for why Comey was canned was that he’d handled the Hillary email investigation terribly, never mind that everyone suspected the real reason was that Comey was then chief inquisitor on Russiagate. Sure enough, when Trump sat down with Holt, he confessed that the Russia probe was a factor when he dropped the axe. (If in fact Mueller’s building an obstruction case against him, that admission will figure prominently.) Same here with Brennan, says Blake. Sarah Sanders threw out all sorts of reasons for yanking his clearance — “erratic conduct” and “frenzied commentary,” a track record of lying to Congress — supplemented by Trump fans revisiting some of Brennan’s career lowlights.

But when the president himself was asked, what did he say? Same as with Comey: Russiagate.

Something doesn’t add up, though. It’s true that *almost* all of the people whom Sanders named yesterday as having their clearances under review are Russiagate veterans. Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Clapper, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr — they all played some role, however tangential, in the probe. Stripping Brennan’s clearance and threatening the rest of them certainly can be understood as an attempt by Trump to intimidate people who are currently working on the investigation by suggesting that there’ll be consequences (maybe only minor consequences, but still) for doing so as long as he’s president. But there’s one name on Sanders’s list that doesn’t fit the pattern. Namely, Michael Hayden. Hayden’s been out of government for nearly 10 years, having left the CIA a few weeks into Obama’s first term. He has nothing to do with Russiagate. What he is, rather, is a vehement Trump critic, a guy known for showing up on cable news regularly to slam the president, often about Russiagate but not exclusively.

If the touchstone for stripping clearances is participating in the “witch hunt” rather than badmouthing Trump, how do we explain Hayden’s inclusion in the list?

I think Blake’s right about this being a “Lester Holt moment” but in this case Russiagate is only part of the real reason why he took action. To restate a point made yesterday, it’s almost impossible to believe that Brennan or anyone else would lose their clearance, even if they had worked on Russiagate, if they were praising Trump now. Russiagate isn’t the touchstone for revoking clearances, antagonism towards the president — of which support for Russiagate is a prominent part — is. Comey’s the ultimate example. Everyone remembers the warm greeting he received from POTUS when Trump first met his law-enforcement deputies in the West Wing shortly after being sworn in. That’s because Comey had ended up helping Trump during the election, however inadvertently, when he reopened the Emailgate investigation in late October. Because Trump seems to view the world purely in “pro-Trump” and “anti-Trump” terms, he probably took that as a sign that Comey was “pro-Trump” and decided to keep him on at the FBI, believing he might prove to be a loyalist. When he wasn’t, he was seen as an “anti-Trump” element and had to go. The point is, Comey had been working on Russiagate for many months before he was fired. His participation wasn’t in itself disqualifying. What was ultimately disqualifying was his perceived antagonism. That’s why Hayden’s seemingly random inclusion on the list isn’t so random.

Here’s Clapper yesterday responding to an interesting hypothetical by Chris Cuomo: What if Trump revoked Mueller’s clearance? He clearly has the power. It would cripple the Russia investigation if he did it, presumably. He may have it in mind as a half-measure he could take to hobble the probe without going full nuclear and trying to fire Mueller. I assume Congress could act to reinstate Mueller’s clearance, but that would require two-thirds veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Would those votes be there among Republicans, knowing that most of their own base would back Trump up on stripping Mueller of his access to classified info?