White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Trump is "exploring" taking away the security clearances of a variety of former intelligence chiefs in light of their comments on the president's claims on Russian interference, claiming officials are "politicizing" government agencies and "monetizing" their political offices.
Sanders told reporters that Mr. Trump is considering removing the clearances of Obama intelligence officials, including FBI Director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Director of National Security Agency Michael Hayden, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe.
The idea was first raised after Sen. Rand Paul tweeted Monday morning that he would be meeting with Mr. Trump to ask him to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance, claiming Brennan was "monetizing" his clearance by "making millions of dollars divulging secrets to the mainstream media with his attacks" on Mr. Trump.
Last week, Brennan deemed the president's remarks at his press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said his comments were "imbecilic" and showed "he is wholly in the pocket of Putin."
"The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service and security clearances," Sanders told reporters at Monday's press briefing.
She added, "Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence."
Asked if Mr. Trump was punishing those for using free speech to speak out against the president, Sanders said "no", adding, "the president doesn't like the fact that people are politicizing agencies and departments that are specifically meant to not be political and meant to not be monetized off of security clearances."
Some of those Sanders named on Monday were quick to respond to the White House proposition. Gen. Hayden told CBS News' Olivia Gazis in an email that he doesn't "go back for classified briefings. Won't have any effect on what I say or write."
A spokesperson for McCabe, meanwhile, said that his clearance had already been deactivated when he was fired from his position with the FBI.
"You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps...," the spokesperson added.
Clapper told CNN that removing his clearance would have "no bearing on my regard, or lack thereof, for President Trump." He added that the move is a "very, very petty thing to do."
Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow at Brookings tweeted that during a text message exchange with Comey, he asked the former FBI director if there was even anything for the White House to revoke.
Comey reportedly responded "nope," adding that he was "read out" when he left government and later declined a temporary clearance to read a classified version of the DOJ'S inspector general report.
Security clearances are good for 5 years. Officials can maintain their highest level clearance, but that is not always the case.
CBS News' Jeff Pegues notes that Brennan, Clapper and Comey aren't currently being briefed on the Russia investigation. They were briefed on all of the intelligence beginning in July 2016 at least through February 2017, the most consequential months of the investigation when the FBI was leading the probe. Their statements to date have been informed by those briefings.
Sanders was later asked if the clearances for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would also be removed, she told reporters "I'm not aware of any plans for that at this point."