Trump singles out his critics, threatens to use power of the state against them

Creeping authoritarianism.


In a strikingly authoritarian move, President Trump announced on Wednesday that he has stripped former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, and is considering taking the same action against a group of current and former officials who have nothing in common beyond being some of his most vocal critics.

In addition to Brennan, the list of people who the White House singled out by name includes James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

After reading a statement from Trump at the beginning of Wednesday’s press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders fielded a string of questions about Trump’s decision. She struggled to explain the criteria Trump is using to determine who should lose their clearances, and refused to say whether going on TV and criticizing the president — as many of those singled out have done — makes it more likely they will be punished.

“It seems like everybody that you mentioned has been a political critic of the president,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked. “Is he going after his political opponents with this?”

Sanders flatly denied that politics has anything to do with it.

“No, if there were others that weren’t, that we deemed necessary, we could certainly take a look and review those as well,” she said.

At another point, the Daily Caller’s Saagar Enjeti pointed out to Sanders that one of the people singled out by name for possible punishment, Bruce Ohr, still works for the Department of Justice.

“Instead of putting him under review, does the president believe he should be fired?” reporter asked.

“I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front,” Sanders said.

“Why put his security clearance under review, which would render him unable to do his job, and not just fire him?”

“Once again, I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front,” Sanders replied, before moving on to another reporter.

The White House first announced late last month that Trump was considering rescinding the clearances of critics of the administration, including officials who didn’t retain them. The administration’s rationale was that the officials in question had allegedly “monetized their public service and security clearances.”

But that explanation didn’t hold much water coming from an unprecedentedly corrupt administration, and Sanders made no mention of it on Wednesday. Instead, the statement she read that was put together by a president who rage-tweets for pastime accused Brennan of “increasingly frenzied commentary.”

The copy of Trump’s statement that was provided to reporters indicates it had been in the can since late last month.

Last winter, when the White House was fielding questions about whether former administration official Rob Porter, who was credibly accused of domestic abuse, would keep his security clearance, administration officials tried to pass the buck by claiming security clearance processes are the business of the intelligence community. Months later, Trump is inserting himself in the process without even so much as consulting top intelligence community officials.

According to CNN, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates — the nation’s most senior intelligence official — wasn’t consulted by Trump prior to Wednesday’s announcement. Instead, Trump reportedly discussed the matter with Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.


A lawyer for one of the officials targeted by the White House, Andy McCabe, compared it with Nixon’s “enemies list.”

Meanwhile, on CNN, one of the ex-officials Trump mentioned by name, former DNI James Clapper, said “the larger issue here has always been about infringement of 1st amendment rights… infringement of our right to speak, and the appropriateness of being critical of this president.”

Another ex-official singled out by Trump, Strzok, was fired from the FBI earlier this week. Despite the fact that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating him for obstruction of justice, Trump has publicly acknowledged Strozk’s firing “is as much about the Mueller operation as anything else.”