Feels like a good, healthy thing in a serious country for the president to spend his days “trolling” people, especially critics from the other party, especially in the context of national security.
Alex Griswold notes that Ryan’s probably right that Trump is just trolling in wanting to take away people’s clearances, given the fact that two of the people named by Sarah Sanders yesterday as at risk for having their clearances revoked (Comey and McCabe) have already lost them. I don’t know, though: Trump being Trump, he may very well be serious and just neglected to check the clearance status before spitting out the names of political enemies whom he wanted to punish.
Anyway, compare and contrast. Here’s Nikki Haley last night, addressing a bunch of high-school students…
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever posted anything online to quote-unquote ‘own the libs,’” Haley asked at the High School Leadership Summit at George Washington University…
“I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading?” Haley asked. “We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn’t leadership — it’s the exact opposite.”
…and here’s the Speaker of the House describing what motivates the commander-in-chief:
NEW: Speaker Ryan on Pres. Trump's threat to revoke security clearances from former intelligence officials: "I think he's trolling people, honestly." https://t.co/kjEIq2OcaX pic.twitter.com/wteoCb5dEE
— ABC News (@ABC) July 24, 2018
Trump’s 2020 slogan will likely be some variation on MAGA — “Keep Making America Greater!” — but “Own the Libs” would be truer to what drives his popularity. As for the clearances, Michael Warren affirms the two points I made yesterday in writing about this. One: If you’re worried about John Brennan or Susan Rice whispering classified info to the media, it doesn’t matter whether they still have their clearances or not. That’s a crime, period. Investigate and charge them if there’s probable cause. Two: Maintaining the clearances of former officials is actually more of a benefit to the current administration than to those ex-officials. So long as Brennan still has his clearance, Dan Coats or Gina Haspel or Mike Rogers can discuss classified matters with him that happened during his time in government. Take his clearance away and Coats et al. are stonewalled.
The most important point, though, is that just because a former official maintains his clearance doesn’t mean he gets to see new intelligence that’s being collected by the Trump administration. It’s not like Brennan has a special “Top-Secret Clearance” badge that he can present at CIA headquarters and then waltz on in to a SCIF to view the latest happenings on Syria. Bradley Moss, a lawyer who specializes in intelligence matters, explains what a clearance does — and doesn’t — mean:
There is a critical distinction that often is misunderstood—even by individuals who have worked in the cleared community for decades—between “access” and “eligibility for access” to classified information. When an individual is granted a security clearance, all that means is that that person has been favorably adjudicated and is “eligible for access” to classified information at a particular level (whether confidential, secret or top secret). That eligibility remains valid for a certain number of years depending on the level of classification for which the individual was favorably adjudicated (for example, a secret-level clearance is valid for 10 years).
Access, in and of itself, is the subsequent step taken by the agency to provide the cleared individual with the means by which to use classified email accounts, utilize classified databases and work in a classified office space. When, for example, Comey was fired, his “access” was immediately cut off. He was “debriefed” from any compartmentalized programs to which he had been accessed, his credentials were taken away and he probably signed several “briefing acknowledgment” forms confirming that he had been debriefed. Comey’s “eligibility,” however, was not affected by his termination. What the White House threatened to do on Monday was to revoke Comey’s eligibility.
Brennan remains eligible to view classified information but only if Trump’s administration chooses to share it with him. He has no right to demand to see it just because he’s cleared to see it. And if you’re worried that anti-Trumpers inside the administration might be secretly sharing it with him anyway, there’s no reason to think that would change if his clearance status did. Someone who’s out to get POTUS by leaking classified info to those not authorized to view it probably isn’t going to be deterred by whether the recipient is formally cleared to see it or not.
One more quote from today’s Ryan presser:
Just asked Ryan if he’s OK w Trump-Putin meeting in DC, and he said: “We will certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a Joint Session. .. What I think matters is the msg. And if the msg is stop meddling in our country, stop violating our sovereignty, then I support that.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 24, 2018
Exit question: Is he trolling Trump by making clear that the White House’s invitation to Putin ends at the front door of the Capitol?