Opinion: Trump Tried To Weaponize Security Clearances to Silence Dissent

Donald Trump is abusing presidential power again. This time he threatened, via Sarah Sanders, to strip several people of their national security clearances. In short, he tried to weaponize security clearances. If you meet the standards for a clearance but are a critic of Trump, he wants to silence you by taking your security clearance. If you may be a risk to national security but are on Trump’s good side then the nation’s secrets are at your disposal.

Most of the people on Trump’s enemies list served on the national security teams of previous administrations (Republican and Democrat). The notable exceptions are former FBI director James Comey and his second in command Andrew McCabe. Of course, both men were stripped of their clearances when Trump fired them.

If he can stifle the voices of people like John Brennan, James Clapper, Susan Rice, James Comey and Andrew McCabe then he can stifle all of us. At least, that’s how it’s done in Putin’s Russia, and other countries with “strong man” dictators.

It won’t work. For one thing, some of the people on that list, (James Comey and Andrew McCabe) no longer have a security clearance. The fact that the White House didn’t know, or didn’t check on these facts is enough reason to be concerned about the administration’s judgement on such matters.

It also illustrates just how little thought was put into this threat when Sarah Sanders announced it. The only thing more laughable than the fact that she showed America and the world the White House doesn’t even know who has a security clearance was the reason  she gave.

“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances. Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia, or being influenced by Russia, against the president is extremely inappropriate and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”

That’s rich coming from a White House where the president hasn’t divested from his businesses and monetized the presidency on everything from fees at Mar-a-lago to pictures of Melania Trump.
I could write several posts just on the ways this White House has been monetized by the Trumps.

The same is true in relation to Russia which even Trump, sometimes, acknowledges attacked our elections in 2016 and are on track to do it again this year. The extent of Russia’s influence over Trump was on full display during that infamous performance in Helsinki – where Trump behaved more like a submissive puppy than an America president. Trump is reciting the Kremlin’s talking points on NATO and tried to get Russia reinstated at the G7.
Since the investigation is on-going, the fact is Sarah Sanders is in no position to know one way or another about evidence involving Trump and any inappropriate ties he may have with Russia.

None of the people on Trump’s enemy list is a threat to national security. They are only a threat to Donald Trump’s ego.
They didn’t share matters of national security with a hostile foreign power, Russia  – like Mr. Trump did.

The joke is on us because the only reason Trump has a security clearance is because he is the president.Trump has no legal basis whatsoever to strip critics of their security clearance simply because they are critics. If he tries to make good on his threat, Trump is violating their first amendment rights. Quoting Law professor Laurence Tribe, Jennifer Rubin summed it up in a Washington Post opinion piece.

“This is probably the clearest and most indefensible of Trump’s First Amendment violations.” He observes, “The idea that it could be covered up vis-à-vis the courts by blanket claims that national security is at issue strikes me as highly implausible.” He continues, “If the president [were] to make individualized findings that one of the officials he seeks to deprive . . . of security clearance has in fact [abused] the privilege of using that security clearance by releasing classified information, that would be another thing. But to take an enemies list of this kind and threaten every member of it the way the president has done makes Nixon’s enemies list look trivial by comparison.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Trump attacked the first amendment.  We know about his frequent recitation of a “strong man” talking point calling the media an enemy of the people.

We also know that when Trump tried to silence dissent on Twitter, he was ordered to unblock the people whose comments he didn’t like.

Judge Naomi Buchwald was very clear in her ruling:

“The record establishes that “[s]hortly after the Individual Plaintiffs posted the tweets . . . in which they criticized the President or his policies, the President blocked each of the Individual Plaintiffs” . . .  and defendants do “not contest Plaintiffs’ allegation that the Individual Plaintiffs were blocked from the President’s Twitter account because the Individual Plaintiffs posted tweets that criticized the President or his policies.” The continued exclusion of the individual plaintiffs based on viewpoint is, therefore, impermissible under the First Amendment.”

Combined with the vote, the first amendment is what makes America free and democratic.  Even if the extent of Trump’s concern is how dissent effects his ego, the fact remains, he can’t punish people for exercising their first amendment rights.  Obviously, his boss at the Kremlin will have to be taught that lesson.