Report: Trump nearly revoked Obama's access to the daily intelligence briefing last year

Good thing he did too. Now he can do it this year, a week before the midterms. Nothing would get Republicans out to the polls like a huge chair-throwing Trump/Obama brawl over O’s security clearance right before Election Day.

No, no, I kid. In reality, nothing would get Republicans out to the polls like Trump teasing that his top-secret investigators have finally found Obama’s “real” birth certificate. And he’s now prepared to reveal it…

…on one condition. America has to elect a filibuster-proof Republican majority to the Senate first.

At the time [in early 2017], some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in the White House saw former Obama Administration officials as powerful enemies who threatened the new President’s rule, and they agitated for punishing them by revoking their security clearances. The idea was rebuffed by the national-security adviser at the time, H. R. McMaster, who signed a memo extending the clearances of his predecessors at the N.S.C., Republicans and Democrats alike. As Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama, some of the new President’s advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors. Trump was told about the importance of keeping former Presidents, who frequently met with foreign leaders, informed. In the end, Trump decided not to exclude Obama, at the urging of McMaster.

That’s similar to the argument that’s been made for keeping Brennan’s clearance intact: Continuity. Something might happen that requires Gina Haspel, say, to confer with Brennan because it’s related to a matter he oversaw when he led the CIA — but she can’t do that anymore if it involves classified information because Brennan is no longer legally allowed to see that info. Trump rejected the continuity argument in Brennan’s case on grounds that he’s now a year and a half into his presidency and the universe of topics on which the administration might need Brennan’s input is small and shrinking. The same logic might apply to Obama.

Of course, Obama is unlike Brennan in that he still meets occasionally with leaders like Angela Merkel, as noted in the excerpt, and therefore it’s in the national interest for him to be fully up on secret developments when he does. I think Trump would answer that, though, by saying that he and Obama have very different visions of what the “national interest” is and that, particularly when meeting with a liberal like Merkel, Obama’s as apt to undermine Trump’s vision as he is to advance it. In which case how does it help Trump for Obama to be a fully informed shadow negotiating partner for people like Merkel?

If the answer is “it doesn’t” then Trump’s probably going to end up going nuclear on Obama’s intel access too, sooner or later. What a partisan brawl that’ll be. Not that there’s much presidential fraternity left given the mutual disdain between Trump and O (and Trump and Bush and, er, Trump and Clinton) but that’ll finish off what’s left of it.

Actually, if Trump wants to motivate Republican turnout this fall, he should revoke Hillary’s security clearance the day before the election. Not for any particular reason. Just because. Speaking of which, as a little late-night reading, spend some time with this fascinating Dave Wasserman piece about the weirdly bifurcated election that’s shaping up. Because the Senate map this year just so happens to focus heavily on Trump-friendly states, we’re headed for a schizophrenic result in which one party gains (maybe heavily) in one chamber while the other party gains in the other. (“Just imagine a Democratic House majority with subpoena power to investigate every office of the Trump administration serving alongside a Republican Senate majority at the ready to confirm all of the president’s judicial and cabinet appointments.”) Unless, that is, Trump pushes his goofy “red wave” talking point so hard this fall that he accidentally convinces Republican voters that it’s safe to stay home. Imagine that.

Jazz Shaw Jul 06, 2022 9:01 AM ET