A group of esteemed former intelligence officials on Thursday released a statement to respond to “the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances.” They praised Brennan’s service as a former head of the CIA and declared that “allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless.” They noted that Brennan decided “to speak out sharply regarding what he sees as threats to our national security.” The former officials said that some of them had done the same, but others “elected to take a different course and be more circumspect in our public pronouncements.”
Whatever their decision, the intelligence professionals agreed that “the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.” They declared the removal of a security clearance as a “political tool” to be unprecedented. They concluded: “Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials. As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech — even when that right has been used to criticize us — that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”
The letter was signed by former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper and former CIA directors Robert Gates, William H. Webster, George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss, retired Gen. Michael V. Hayden, retired Gen. David H. Petraeus and Leon Panetta, as well as former deputy CIA directors Stephen R. Kappes, Michael J. Morell, Avril Haines, John E. McLaughlin and David S. Cohen. It is an impressive and unprecedented bipartisan defense of American values and due process by intelligence experts who have held the highest positions in Democratic and Republican administrations going back to 1987. No president has so abused his power over security clearances as to warrant such a unified response.
Now it’s time for Republicans to stop cheerleading (or cowering) in the face of President Trump’s conduct. The appropriate response is to conduct oversight hearings, censure the president (who already admitted pulling Brennan’s security clearance because he blames Brennan and others for the Russia investigation) and, if need be, pass legislation spelling out the grounds for revoking security clearances and a clear procedure for challenging them. Some lawmakers might also choose to refer this particular issue to the FBI, because Trump admits that he acted in retaliation for former officials’ investigation into an attack on American democracy. (Recall that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is conducting both a criminal investigation and a national security inquiry.)
In a perfect world with lawmakers on both sides committed to upholding the Constitution, there would be bipartisan agreement on the need to begin impeachment hearings. There are more than enough grounds to commence hearings based on what we know to date and on Trump’s public conduct, including abuse of his authority over security clearances, his other assaults on the First Amendment, his blatant attempts to interfere with the Russia investigation (including baseless attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department), his drafting of a phony cover story for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, his false public denial about payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels, etc.
But we live in a world in which Republicans refuse to put country and Constitution over partisan loyalty to an unfit president. An impeachment effort conducted solely by one party will fail. The remedy, therefore, is to replace as many Republicans as possible in November and then vote Trump out in 2020. In the meantime, a Democratic-led House can conduct a whole slew of inquiries, subpoena his tax returns (or pass legislation requiring their release) and disallow his receipt of foreign emoluments. The bleeding must stop before we can fully restore our democracy.
The former intelligence officials have rendered a great service to the country in responding in unison to the president’s outrageous conduct. Now Congress and the voters must pick up the ball.