Last summer, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Donald Trump was considering a bold move. As the president’s chief spokesperson acknowledged at the time, Trump was considering revoking the security clearances of former intelligence officials who’ve criticized him, raising the specter, as NBC News put it, of a president “using his office to lash out at his political enemies.”
The next day, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) shrugged off the White House rhetoric. Referring to the president, Ryan told reporters, “I think he’s trolling people, honestly.”
Team Trump seemed to prove otherwise: it soon after announced the revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s clearance for accessing classified information. The motivation wasn’t subtle – the president was retaliating against a critic, while sending a signal to other potential detractors – and it drew swift condemnations from a variety of circles.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman at the time, described Trump’s move as “a banana republic kind of thing.”
But did it actually happen?
In late August 2018, Brennan appeared on MSNBC and explained that in the wake of the White House’s announcement, he hadn’t heard from any officials, in any capacity, notifying him about his status. “Whether or not my clearances have been stripped, I’m still uncertain about,” he said.
Nearly a year later, the New York Times reported over the holiday weekend on the president’s antagonism toward his own country’s intelligence community. The article noted:
He also prompted harsh criticism from former national security officials, but his efforts to target them were ultimately futile.
They accelerated in July when the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that the administration was considering revoking the clearances of Mr. Comey, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama; Michael V. Hayden, who was a C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush; and others.
The White House said a month later that the president was ordering the revocation of Mr. Brennan’s clearance. But the White House never followed through with the complex bureaucratic work it would have taken to strip the clearance, according to a person familiar with the process.
Oh. So in this case, it was “a banana republic kind of thing” in a country where the authoritarian leaders are kind of lazy.
I mention all of this for a few reasons. The first is that I, among many others, made a fuss about the revocation last summer, so it seems only appropriate to close the loop.
Second, I’m routinely amazed by Trump World’s indolence. As a Politico report noted last year, “The president is not known for his follow-through. Many of his proclamations and promises, which are beamed to his supporters in the form of early-morning tweets or off-handed comments in interviews, eventually fade from view, never to be brought up again after Trump has made a political point.”
And third, this serves as a reminder of just how untrustworthy this White House is. Even when there’s an official presidential statement about purported actions Trump and his team are taking, it’s important to remember that it’s a mistake to assume they’re telling the truth.
Often, they’re not.