How long ago was it that Trump revoked Brennan’s clearance? That was … April, wasn’t it?
No, wait. It was 12 days ago. I keep forgetting that time is compressed in an age when we average 15-20 news cycles per day.
For all the heat POTUS has taken from natsec people and the media over this, the public’s firmly on his side.
The survey showed 59 percent of registered voters felt Brennan should have lost his security clearance, while 64 percent said Comey and others at the FBI who were fired or demoted over their actions should lose their clearance.
Overall, 60 percent of registered voters said they believed that former national security officials who become consultants and TV news contributors should give up their national security clearances…
“There would definitely be support for a wholesale policy revoking their clearances,” [pollster Mark Penn] added.
If Comey still had a clearance, which he doesn’t, this probably would have cinched its revocation:
John McCain’s final statement is what genuine American leadership sounds like.
— James Comey (@Comey) August 27, 2018
The irony of Trump targeting Brennan and Comey for their political criticism of him is that he has solid prudential arguments available to justify a general policy of limiting people’s clearances after they leave government. There are “continuity” concerns when a new administration replaces the previous one, as cases may arise when current officials need to confer with their predecessors, but those concerns begin to ease the longer the new administration is in power. Trump could have announced at the start of his presidency that all clearances henceforth would be time-limited, with the possessor forfeiting his privileges, say, one year after leaving government. All of his Obama-era nemeses on Russiagate would have had their clearances revoked automatically by now (along with many thousands of others).
But why would POTUS want a generally applicable policy? The point of stripping Brennan and Comey isn’t to make a point that intel agents *as a rule* shouldn’t be allowed to dine out endlessly on their eligibility to access government secrets. It’s to retaliate against them specifically for their criticism of him. A general rule in which all intel people automatically lost their clearances would actually frustrate Trump by denying him the power to ceremonially strip an enemy of a privilege which he’d otherwise enjoy. As he likes to say, he’s a “counterpuncher.” Stripping Brennan and Comey of their clearances is a way to counterpunch, one that would be denied to him under a “one year” rule like the one I floated.
The surprising thing about this poll is that the two parties are usually hyper-polarized, particularly when Trump is butting heads with an Obama administration veteran. (The left may have discarded any loyalty it felt for Comey after his performance during the campaign.) You’d expect a 50/50-ish split with all Dems on one side of the issue and all Republicans on the other. Maybe some liberals remember Brennan’s disgraceful lying about the CIA accessing the Senate Intel Committee’s database and have turned against him; as many have noted, he’s a bad example if you’re looking to make the case that natsec veterans can and should be trusted to behave ethically. It may also be that some Democrats agree that, however distasteful they may find Trump, security clearances are a presidential prerogative and Brennan shouldn’t expect to hold his in perpetuity if he’s going to undermine the president in public every day.
My hunch, though, is that part of the support for stripping Brennan and Comey derives from the belief that a security clearance entitles you to access government secrets after you’ve left the government. That isn’t true; what it does is render you eligible to receive secret information if the government chooses to share it with you. A natsec regime in which enemies of the president could waltz into CIA or FBI HQ and demand to see the latest top-secret intelligence even when they have no professional stake in the administration’s success and some professional stake in its failure would be unfair to the White House. That’s not the system we have but if it’s the system people think we have then you can understand why there’d be bipartisan skepticism of it. That probably explains the skew here. But either way, it’s good news for Trump and destined to encourage him to revoke more clearances. If the public is not just tolerant but mildly enthusiastic about him settling scores with his enemies, he’ll do more of it.