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Clapper: Security clearance review is 'petty'

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reacts to news that President Donald Trump may revoke the security clearance for former leaders of the intelligence community.

Posted: Jul. 24, 2018 8:13 AM
Updated: Jul. 24, 2018 8:13 AM

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says President Donald Trump's consideration of revoking his and several other former national security officials' security clearances is a "very, very petty thing to do."

In an interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Monday, Clapper was asked for his response to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders' bombshell that the White House was considering revoking his and five other former national security officials' clearances.

"I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do," Clapper said.

Sanders said Monday that Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe are under consideration to have their clearances stripped.

"The President is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and their security clearances," Sanders said. She added that "making baseless accusations" of any improper relationship with Russia is "inappropriate."

When asked about the process for removing the security clearances of former officials, Clapper said it was within the President's power to do so.

"There is a formal process for doing this," Clapper said. "But you know, I guess, legally the President has that prerogative, and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that's a terrible precedent, and it's a really sad commentary and it's an abuse of the system."

On CNN's "The Situation Room" later Monday, Clapper said revoking clearances of intelligence officials critical of the President was "chilling."

"If ... when someone applies for security clearance, are they going to add to the Standard Form 86 a pledge of allegiance to President Trump? Unswerving, uncompromising, complete loyalty to the President as a new criteria for a clearance? That's a pretty chilling thing," Clapper said, referring to a questionnaire used when applying for national security positions.

Later, on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," Clapper said, "I didn't know what to make of it at first and was a bit speechless, to tell you the truth. I think after having reflected on it, to me, I think this is a real abuse of the clearance system, just to use it to attack political opponents or people that have been critical of the President."

He added, "It has all kinds of First Amendment implications, which are deeply disturbing."

Clapper confirmed to CNN last week that he and other intelligence officials briefed Trump on Russian President Vladimir Putin's ordering of cyberattacks to attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election. Clapper has frequently criticized Trump's behavior towards Russia, including his comments in a news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last week.

Standing beside Putin, Trump did little to counter the Russian leader's denials and show support for the US intelligence community's findings that Russia meddled in the election.

"I've been trying my best to give the President the benefit of the doubt and always expressed potential other theories as to why he behaves as he does with respect to Russia generally and Putin specifically," Clapper told CNN Thursday.

"But more and more I come to a conclusion after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him."

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