GOP Sen Johnson: I Don’t Want to See Revoking Security Clearances Becoming Routine
WALLACE: Question, sir, how does the president’s action protect the nation’s secrets? What evidence is there that any of these ten people have misused classified information?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI), SENATE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Good morning, Chris. I’m not sure there’s evidence that anybody has misused it but I do believe that former CIA Director John Brennan abused his privilege. When you’re an ex-CIA director and you are going on all the cable news shows and acting as partisan as he is and accusing the president of the United States of treasonous behavior, high crimes and misdemeanors, last time I checked, treason was punishable by death. You just crossed the line.
And there’s a difference between being eligible for receiving classified information and gaining access to it. Let’s face it. Nobody was going to be consulted with John Brennan. He didn’t need access to any classified information, not during this administration.
So, I have no problem with the president pulled his clearance.
WALLACE: But as I just discussed with Admiral Mullen, we’re not just talking about John Brennan. There are nine other people who were on the list that Sarah Huckabee Sanders read in the White House briefing room. Ten people in all, including Brennan, and the one thing they all have in common is to varying degrees they all have been critics of this president.
Here’s what Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had to say about this.
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SEN. MARK WARNER, D-VA, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIR: These people were being singled out to have either their clearances revoked or in the process of being revoked, to me smacks of Nixonian type practices of trying to silence anyone who is willing to criticize this president.
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WALLACE: And he compared it, as Admiral Mullen did, to an enemies list. If you want to clean this up, why not reformat and take away all the security clearances of all former officials? Why go after your political critics?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I don’t want to see this become routine. I don’t want to see it be politicized and the reason you don’t want to pull security clearance is exactly what the Admiral Mullen was talking about, is being able to, you know, provide access to those individuals you want to consult with. So, the best way handling this is if you don’t have confidence in former CIA officials or other government officials that you’re not going to be consulting with, just don’t give them access.
You know, you gain access when you have a need to know and if you’re not going to be consulting, you just don’t have the need to know. So, again, I don’t want this to become routine. But, again, John Brennan really did cross a line.
He’s one of the leaders of the resistance movement. I understand why President Trump is pretty frustrated. I’ve never seen in my life time a president not given any chance, no honeymoon, you know, massive protests of the weekend after the inauguration. I understand President Trump’s frustration, but again, security clearance is really split between eligibility and access and the best way to handle all of this, if you don’t have confidence with people, just don’t give them access to the classified information.
WALLACE: Well, I was going to say, but doesn’t mean that they would lose their security clearance. Just because you have security clearance —
WALLACE: — doesn’t mean you get access to the information.
And I want to follow-up specifically on that. You say you don’t want to be routine. There’s a report in The Washington Post this weekend that President Trump wants to and, in fact, the White House has already drawn up documents to revoke the security clearances of some of those nine other people on the list and is, in fact, being advised to do so at specific times when there’s bad, negative news coming out to try to disrupt the news cycle.
If he goes after some of those other nine people on the list, are you going to support him or are you going to oppose that?
JOHNSON: I don’t want to see him politicize this.
Listen, when you fire people from agencies their clearances are yanked. But when people retire honorably, I think let them keep their security clearances in place and if you don’t want to consult them, just don’t give them access to classified material. That’s the best way of handling it. Just don’t give them access to the material.
WALLACE: I just want to put up one more thing here and that is the backlash which really spread through the intelligence community and a lot of very senior officials.
Let’s start here. More than a dozen senior intel officials wrote this. It has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.
Some 60 former CIA officers wrote this: The country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views.
And retired Admiral William McRaven who led the special operations command that killed bin Laden wrote this: I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.
I’m sure, Senator, you agree an awful lot of people on this list — they go back to the Reagan administration in the case of Bill Webster — they bleed red, white, and blue.
JOHNSON: Absolutely. These are honorable Americans.
I don’t agree that President Trump is stifling free speech. I don’t want to see an enemies list, and again, I’ll just repeat the west bay to handle this in any administration, if you don’t want to consult with anybody, you don’t necessarily have to yank their security clearance, just don’t give them access to the classified materials. It’s pretty simple.
WALLACE: Senator Johnson, thank you. Thanks for joining us today. Always good to talk with you, sir.
JOHNSON: Have a great day.