It’s unclear on what grounds the White House could try to take away the former officials’ clearances. It’s also unclear how much preparation they did before making this announcement. McCabe’s spokesperson Melissa Schwartz, for example, tweeted that McCabe no longer has a clearance. “Andrew McCabe’s security clearance was deactivated when he was terminated, according to what we were told was FBI policy,” she wrote on Twitter. “You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps…” Hayden told The Atlantic that although he occasionally gets called back in to the agencies to offer his perspective on something, he doesn’t attend classified briefings. “Won’t have any impact on what I say or write,” Hayden said. He added that the president “has absolute authority” to revoke clearances.
The White House’s injection of this issue into the news cycle also seems bound to raise a renewed round of questions about problems the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has had with his security clearance. Kushner’s clearance was downgraded in February before being restored in May. But it also ensures that Trump’s performance in Helsinki—which was widely criticized and for which Trump had to perform grudging damage control—may finally be superseded by something else in the headlines.