Why Trump’s security-clearance threat makes no sense

If the Trump administration decides to revoke their clearances and announce it publicly, it will have ramifications for the administration in ways that will likely displease Trump. For instance, this policy is the entire reason that I am currently tied up in lengthy Freedom of Information Act litigation with various agencies over records pertaining to the clearances of several Trump administration officials. The administration simply cannot have it both ways: If it can’t tell a FOIA requester about the status of one person’s security clearance, then surely it cannot announce to the White House press corps that specific people have had their security clearance revoked. And if they can’t publicly announce the revocation of these security clearances, then the public will never know that they have been revoked, which will naturally have zero effect on how the public perceives the critiques of Comey, Clapper and company.

The other stated rationale for Trump’s action is equally disconnected from the proposed corrective action. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that these officials are leaking classified information to the press. Taking away their clearances won’t do anything to change that. They’re not getting new classified information, because they don’t have the “need to know” unless they’re being actively consulted by the agencies on those matters. Any classified information being leaked would be drawn from the things these ex-officials already knew back when their clearances were active. Revoking their clearances won’t make them any less able to reveal this information; it’s a clearance revocation, not a lobotomy. (Plus, if they were revealing classified information, there’s no “but I have a clearance” legal defense. And, if anything, criminal cases generally tend to go worse for leakers with security clearances than those without them.)

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