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Ryan: Trump 'Just Trolling' Former Intel Officials with Security Clearance Threat

Paul Ryan attends a news conference on capitol hill

WASHINGTON -- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) today brushed off White House threats to strip security clearances from former top national security officials who have been critical of the president as "trolling."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Monday that he had visited with President Trump to encourage him to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.

Last week, Brennan tweeted: "Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"

"John Brennan and others partisans should have their security clearances revoked. Public officials should not use their security clearances to leverage speaking fees or network talking head fees," Paul tweeted after he met with Trump.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if this was under consideration.

“Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service and security clearances,” she replied.

“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,” Sanders added.

Former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe lost their active security clearances as a matter of procedure when they left the bureau. Former top intelligence officials retain clearances in case an instance arises in which they're called to consult with their successors in a classified setting.

Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, told CNN that he "had no prior official notification that my clearance was under consideration for revocation," so "it was quite amazing" to hear it discussed at the White House briefing.

"I didn't know what the make of it at first and was a bit speechless, to tell you the truth," Clapper said. "I think after having reflected on it, to me, I think this is a real abuse of the clearance system, just to use it to attack political opponents or people that have been critical of the president, and, you know, 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? And, of course, it has all kinds of First Amendment implications, which are deeply disturbing."

"What else might the president decide we're not entitled to? Retirement pay? Medical benefits? Where does this stop, just as a way of, again, retaliating against political opponents?" he added.