President Trump plans to revoke the security clearances of a handful of former officials who have been critical of his rhetoric and actions toward Russia, the White House announced Monday, in a move that immediately prompted claims of political retaliation.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the officials being examined are former CIA director John Brennan; former FBI director James B. Comey; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

“The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearances because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, actually monetized their public service and their security clearances in making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia,” Sanders told reporters at a regular press briefing.

She added: “The fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”

The move came shortly after Trump met with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said earlier Monday that he planned to ask the president to revoke Brennan’s clearance. The former Obama administration CIA director last week used the word “treasonous” to describe Trump’s performance at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, saying it showed he was “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

In a tweet shortly after Sanders’ announcement, Paul appeared to take credit for the move.


“Just got out of WH meeting with @realDonaldTrump,” Paul said. “I restated to him what I have said in public: John Brennan and others partisans should have their security clearances revoked.”

“Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees,” he added.

Democrats immediately criticized the move as an attempt to punish former officials for leveling criticism at Trump.

“This is what totalitarianism looks like,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said in a tweet.

A member of the Senate Republican leadership voiced skepticism of the White House’s actions as well.

“I don’t know whether they’ve been abusing their security clearance at all,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the chamber. “That’s a very serious allegation. I want to see what the results are.”


At least two of the officials — Comey and McCabe — do not currently have clearances.

Comey hasn’t had a security clearance for many months, according to a person familiar with the matter.

McCabe’s clearance was deactivated when he was fired from the FBI, said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for McCabe. She said McCabe’s lawyers were told that was according to FBI policy.

“You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps…,” she wrote on Twitter.

Clapper, a career intelligence officer who last served as the Director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration, described the move by the White House as “unprecedented” and “petty.”

Clapper said there were no grounds for dismissing his clearance, and that the White House’s actions were directed solely at “people who have criticized the president.” He said no one from the White House has contacted him about the matter, which he learned about during Sanders’s remarks.


Clapper also said he could not think of an instance in which a president revoked a security clearance.

Reached by phone, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden had no comment on the White House’s statement. But he objected to any White House suggestion that he had mishandled classified information or done anything that would be grounds for revoking his security clearance.

It’s routine for the former directors of intelligence agencies to maintain their security clearance after they’ve left the government. This lets them consult with current intelligence officials and share their expertise, current and former officials said.

Brennan and Rice did not immediately react to the news.

In a pair of tweets earlier Monday, Paul had suggested that Brennan was trying to profit off his security clearance by “divulging secrets to the mainstream media” that undermine Trump, and he said his security clearance should be revoked.

Paul, who once had a frosty relationship with Trump, has emerged as one of his fiercest defenders on Russia, calling those who questioned Trump’s efforts to build a relationship with Putin “unhinged” and “crazy.”

Following last week’s summit with Putin, Trump was widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for appearing too cozy with the Russian leader and failing to more aggressively confront him on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Brennan, who was involved in the assessments of Russian interference, now serves as a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC News and MSNBC and often makes critical comments about Trump.

Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.