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Trump Seeks To Revoke Security Clearances Of Some Ex-Officials

NOEL KING, HOST:

They are former high-level officials. They have each been critical of the president. And now the president is looking into revoking their security clearances. At a White House news conference yesterday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders gave other reasons for why their clearance may be taken away. She also read a list of their names. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was on the list. And here's his response on CNN.

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JAMES CLAPPER: I mean, this is a real abuse of the clearance system, and is that now going to become a criterion for obtaining a clearance anywhere in the government is a pledge of fealty or loyalty to President Trump?

KING: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden was also on the list. He wrote on Twitter that this move would have no effect on what I say or write. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is with me now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So here's the big question - can the president go ahead and do this?

BOWMAN: Yeah, the president has the power to do this. He can do this. But from what I can tell looking back over the decades, it's never been done in this political way. Now, the people Sarah Sanders named have all criticized the president's behavior, sometimes very strongly. And that's not typical for such former national security officials. But the president, of course, has been quite scorching at times and highly critical of these same officials and sometimes with personal attacks as well.

Now, you look back over the decades, people have lost clearances for usually mishandling classified information. There was John Deutch, the former CIA director, Sandy Berger, former national security adviser. But again, never has anyone that I can tell lost a security clearance for criticizing a president. And it's important to note, Noel, that two of the officials mentioned by Sarah Sanders, former FBI Director James Comey and Andrew McCabe, a former FBI deputy director, no longer have their clearances. They lost those when they left the FBI.

KING: That's a really interesting oversight by the White House. Yesterday at that news conference, a reporter asked Sarah Sanders, you know, are you doing this because these people have been critical of the president? And here's what she had to say.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is exploring these mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases actually monetized their public service and their security clearances.

KING: I mean, that seems like a question worth asking. Are people using their security clearance to get rich after they leave these administrations?

BOWMAN: Well, yeah, this is so-called revolving door in Washington where people trade government experience for a high paying job in the private sector. That's been a concern for decades among both Democrats and Republicans. If you have a security clearance, you're more likely to get a job at a defense contractor, for example. So it is marketable. But in this case, I think it's kind of misplaced. All these folks have been in government posts for decades. Some of them are in their 60s or even 70s. So in this case, you know, it's kind of - it's hard to imagine a long-term ploy of I'm going to spend 35, 40 years in government and then cash in for it. I mean, that just - it just doesn't make sense in this case.

KING: Tom, let me ask you, why do ex-security officials have clearance anyway? Why not - why is it not just when you leave the administration, OK, you're done?

BOWMAN: Well, some people hang onto the security clearances or update their security clearances because they're still being called back to government to help on certain issues, to serve on government committees. So they want to have the most current intelligence, the most current classified briefings. You see that a lot in places like the CIA and the Pentagon. They serve on various boards and so forth. So they want to be up to date on what's going on. And so if they lose their security clearance, they can't get the latest information of what's going on. And if you pull their security clearances, you lose their expertise. Again, some of these folks have been in government for decades who are knowledgeable about particular countries or certain situations. So you would lose that by pulling security clearances. You would lose their expertise.

KING: All right, then. And it's worth noting that criticism of this announcement yesterday was bipartisan. NPR's Tom Bowman, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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