During a hastily announced news briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that, as threatened, President Trump was exercising his authority to strip national-security clearance from former CIA director John O. Brennan. Citing Brennan’s purported “erratic conduct and behavior,” Sanders read a statement from Trump explaining the decision.
Then she went further, listing nine other people who might also face some form of punishment from the White House, though no decisions had yet been made to do so.
“Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked,” Sanders said, reading from the statement, “and those who have already lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated.”
The 10 people mentioned in Sanders’s comments were either prominent critics of Trump’s administration or involved to some degree in the development of the investigation into Russian election interference, which continues to pester the president. Below, the 10 identified individuals and why they probably made Trump’s list.
John O. Brennan, former director of the CIA
Brennan served in George W. Bush’s administration before serving as Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser and then CIA director. Since Trump took office, Brennan has been a frequent critic of the president. After Trump’s July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Brennan called the meeting “treasonous.”
More directly, though, he has also provided testimony supporting two ideas that Trump has taken great pains to reject: that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that there were “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.” That latter testimony came in May 2017, before many of those contacts (involving campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, among others) were publicly known.
James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence
Clapper served in three administrations: George H.W. Bush’s, as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; George W. Bush’s; and Obama’s, as DNI.
He, too, has been a critic of Trump’s.
“We have elected someone as president of the United States whose first instincts are to twist and distort truth to his advantage, to generate financial benefit to himself and his family, and, in doing so, to demean the values this country has stood for,” Clapper wrote in a book published this year.
He has also, at times, offered near-real-time rebuttals to rhetoric coming from Trump and his allies. Last month, he confirmed to CNN that the Trump team had almost immediately worked to downplay Russia’s role in 2016 shortly after Trump was briefed on the interference efforts in January 2017.
“What struck me and others as quite unusual was before we left the room, they started writing a news release about our encounter and were trying to say that the Russian meddling — the Russian interference had no impact on the election,” Clapper said. “We didn’t say that.”
James B. Comey, former FBI director
Comey is the former head of the FBI whom Trump fired in May 2017. After being fired, Comey offered testimony suggesting that Trump had asked him to end an investigation into former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and had, on another occasion, asked for Comey’s loyalty. Contemporaneous memos written by Comey were released publicly in April.
Comey’s security clearance was rescinded upon his firing.
Michael V. Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and former CIA director
Hayden was the director of the National Security Agency under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, becoming CIA director during Bush’s second term.
His criticisms of Trump mirror Clapper’s in many ways. He, too, has written a book, titled “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies.” He has compared Trump’s policies to those of Nazi Germany on Twitter, has blamed leaks from the government on frustration inside the administration and has criticized Trump’s style as president.
“Here is a president who does not seem to prepare in detail, is a bit disdainful, even contemptuous, of the normal processes of government, the institutions of government in order to get him ready, who kind of flies by the seat of his pants, is spontaneous in these conversations,” he told CNN in May.
“Here is a president,” he added, “who seems to go into these encounters with, frankly, an unjustified self-confidence in the ability of his person to make these things come out right.”
When the White House first floated rescinding his security clearance, Hayden noted that it wouldn’t affect his work.
Andrew G. McCabe, former deputy FBI director
McCabe served as Comey’s second-in-command at the FBI. When Comey was fired, McCabe assumed the role of director until Christopher A. Wray was confirmed as Comey’s permanent successor.
Trump’s frustration with McCabe isn’t a function of McCabe’s books or television appearances. Instead, Trump sees McCabe as part of the internal FBI effort that resulted in the investigation into possible links between the president’s campaign and Russian interference efforts. Trump began assailing McCabe during the campaign, implying that the FBI official had helped exonerate Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing in the investigation into her email server because McCabe’s wife had gotten campaign money from a Clinton ally. (That money was not unique to McCabe’s wife as a Democratic candidate, and his role in overseeing the Clinton investigation came well after his wife had lost her race.)
Once Trump took office, McCabe, like other administration officials, offered public testimony about the Russian interference effort. His testimony before the House Intelligence Committee was viewed as corroborating Comey’s version of some of his interactions with Trump.
In March, McCabe was fired from his position at the FBI shortly before he could retire, costing him many of his retirement benefits. That firing followed a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general criticizing McCabe’s authorization of two FBI agents to talk to reporters about the Clinton email investigation.
Bruce G. Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general
Ohr is a current Justice Department official whose involvement in the Russia investigation is, as The Post reported in February, circuitous.
His wife, Nellie, did work for Fusion GPS, the investigation firm that hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to look into possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Ohr and Steele had several conversations over the course of the campaign as Steele was compiling the dossier of reports that became a centerpiece of questions about possible collusion efforts.
Like McCabe and others on this list, Ohr is identified in a memo produced by staffers for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) earlier this year that was meant to raise questions about a warrant obtained by the FBI to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That memo alleges that Steele told Ohr at some point in 2016 that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
Ohr is a recent addition to Trump’s Twitter invective against the Russia investigation.
Lisa Page, former FBI attorney
Peter Strzok, former FBI agent
Page is a former attorney with the FBI who was in a romantic relationship with an agent named Peter Strzok.
Strzok led the investigation into Clinton’s email server and launched the investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russian interference once the government learned that Papadopoulos, the campaign adviser, had been told in advance that the Russians had stolen emails from the Clinton campaign. Strzok served on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team until July 2017, when text messages between he and Page came to Mueller’s attention.
Those text messages have formed a central part of Trump allies’ frustration over the Russia investigation. At one point, the pair discuss an “insurance policy,” interpreted by Trump allies as suggesting the pair were working to have leverage over Trump. At another point, Strzok says they would “stop” Trump from becoming president, which obviously didn’t happen. (The “insurance policy” text was apparently, instead, a reference to the ongoing investigation into possible collusion.)
Encompassing so many threads of frustration for Trump and given the text messages between the pair, they’ve become a frequent target of his ire.
Susan E. Rice, former national security adviser
Rice served as Obama’s national security adviser during his second term.
She has regularly defended the Obama administration in the media and been critical of Trump. On ABC News earlier this year, she indicated Trump’s decision-making on foreign policy issues was suspect.
“I don’t know what his motivations are,” Rice said. “I think that’s a legitimate question.”
It was a decision she made as national security adviser that has earned her the most contempt, though. When Trump declared without evidence early last year that Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, Nunes told the media that he’d been shown evidence that the Obama administration had collected intelligence on Trump campaign officials whose identities were “unmasked” at the request of an administration official. (Normally, the identities of Americans caught up in foreign surveillance efforts are kept hidden to respect certain prohibitions against surveilling American citizens.) That official, it was soon reported, was Rice.
Rice admitted unmasking the identities of the individuals, arguing that it was necessary to assess the provided intelligence.
Sally Q. Yates, former deputy attorney general
Yates was the second-in-command at the Justice Department under Obama and led the department before Attorney General Jeff Sessions was confirmed. That meant she was in charge when Trump signed his first travel ban. Yates refused to defend the ban, and Trump fired her.
Since then, she, too, has been a critic of Trump’s. After his meeting with Putin, she criticized Trump on Twitter.
“Our President today not only chose a tyrant over his own Intel community, he chose Russia’s interests over the country he is sworn to protect,” she wrote. “All Americans should raise their voices. Let the world know what we stand for.”
Yates was also involved in the firing of Flynn. It was she who informed White House Counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn had given untrue information to Vice President Pence, the identified cause of Flynn’s firing. The same day that Yates was asked by McGahn to provide more information from Flynn’s interview with the FBI, Trump invited Comey to dinner, where, Comey says, Trump asked that he give the president his loyalty.
Yates was also involved in renewing the warrants to surveil Page.
Ten individuals, all of whom have been the targets of Trump’s frustration. After Sanders finished reading her statement about them, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl quickly seized on that obvious point.
“Is he going after his political opponents with this?” Karl asked.
“No,” Sanders replied. “If there were others that weren’t, that we deemed necessary, we would look at those, as well.”