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.

Comey tweeted after the briefing, "Thought experiment: Make a list of all the public figures in this country and around the world the current president has criticized. Ask yourself: 'Why is Putin missing from the list?' No responsible American should ever stop asking, 'Why?'”

At a press conference on Capitol Hill today, Ryan was asked if it's "dangerous to go down that road" with the security clearance revocations.

"I think he's trolling people, honestly," Ryan replied. "This is something that's in the purview of the executive branch. I think some of these people have already lost their clearances, some people keep their clearances. That's something that the executive branch deals with; it's not really in our purview."

Pressed again on the matter, Ryan reiterated, "I think he's just trolling people."

Ryan was also asked for his thoughts on the invitation extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House this fall.

"We will certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a joint session. That's something we reserve for allies," Ryan replied.

"Look, I'm comfortable having presidents sit down and have one-on-ones with foreign leaders, but what I think matters is the message. And if the message is, 'Stop meddling in our country, stop violating our sovereignty,' then I support that. But it's the message that counts," he said, adding, "I think we can always be firmer on that message."