Washington (CNN)’s latest gambit to choke off the flow of information for past spy chiefs who have criticized him is a disturbing move that again exposes an imperio streak out of place in n democracy.

But the idea that it is being serioly contemplated will send a chilling effect throughout Washington.
The wielding of presidential power to punish prominent critics would take this periloly closer to potential abes of executive authority — perhaps moving it onto territory not tested by any commander in chief since Richard Nixon.
    Singling out dissenting former public servants in this way is a norm-bting power play that might seem tame in political systems ruled with an iron grip by Rsia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, who Trump admires. But it would be fueled by a strongman’s instinct that both those leaders might recognize.

    A political test for clearance

    The idea that a president could establish a political test for the hundreds of thoands of current and former employees who hold clearances — including in the upper reaches of the covert world — could inflict signicant damage on vital institutions. The possibility that he could e such a test to stle criticism of his actions is almost unthinkable.
    “It sounds to me like Donald Trump is talking about building an enemies list,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said Monday on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
    Such a claim has validity becae San Rice, the Obama administration’s second-term national adviser, was on television as recently as Sunday criticizing Trump and questioning his ties to Rsia — and a day later found herself singled out on the list.
    Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the controversy was that the made no secret of the fact that Trump was contemplating the revocation of the clearances for individuals, including former CIA Directors Michael Hayden and John Brennan and ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, becae they had criticized him.
    “Making baseless accations of improper contact with Rsia or being influenced by Rsia against the President is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accations with zero evidence,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
    Sanders’ comment yet again revealed the President’s extreme sensitivity to allegations that he or his campaign in 2016 colluded with a Rsian intelligence effort to put him into office, which appears to have become even more acute since his deferential behavior toward Putin in Helsinki last week, amid an astonishing public debate over whether he has been compromised by Moscow.
    Sanders had an ostensible jtication for the President’s plan — that barely passes the laugh test.
    “The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove clearance becae they politicize, and in some cases monetize, their public service and clearances,” Sanders said.
    The irony that Trump, of all people, is criticizing others for politicizing the intelligence community or profiting from public service is rich indeed. After all, he once acced intelligence agencies of behaving as though they were in Nazi Germany and has relentlessly attacked the FBI and subsequent special counsel investigation into alleged election collion with Rsia as a “witch hunt.”
    Ethics experts have frequently acced the Trump family of profiting from the presidency, and his tenure has included multiple scandalo episodes of Cabinet officers being profligate with money.

    Unprecedented times

    second-term national security adviser
    While Trump’s threat to revoke clearances is unprecedented, so are the times. In no previo period have former senior intelligence officials been on so often openly criticizing a sitting President.
    There is an argument to be made that some of the commentary by former senior intelligence officers has certainly crossed the boundaries set by their predecessors, many of whom were content to remain in the shadows.
    Many of Trump’s supporters, receptive to the President’s months-long campaign against the Rsia probe and the attacks on the “deep state” in Washington on conservative , are unlikely to share the shock rattling through Washington since Trump’s threat.
    Some of Brennan’s criticism of Trump, which included a charge that the President was “treasono” in his dealings with Putin last week, have surprised some former colleagues with its vehemence, though none of them doubt he is sincere in his criticism.
    Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chaired the Hoe Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s threat was worrying but also questioned the outspokenness of Brennan.
    “It’s petty. It’s certainly below the stature of the office of the President of the ,” Rogers told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “It is also not ctomary for the former CIA director to be off the reservation where he is either.”
    Hayden and Clapper, both of whom now work for CNN as commentators, have also been searing in their critiques of Trump, though they are typically more temperate in their language. Each man worked for Republican and Democratic presidents and never sought to enter — but both have said they feel compelled to speak out becae they see the country’s institutions in peril.
    “It’s pretty obvio what the reason is: Why we were singled out for this contemplated action is becae of criticism that we have expressed, and reservations that we have expressed about the President,” Clapper told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.
    The former DNI also said it would never have occurred to him to recommend revoking the clearance of former Trump campaign aide and short-lived national adviser Michael Flynn for “vitriolic” criticism of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.
    Some voters might ask why former national officials need clearances anyway — since many of them take lucrative jobs in the and sectors.
    One jtication is that having such stat allows former senior officials to be consulted by their successors on issues of a vital national interest where their experience and institutional knowledge can offer priceless context.
    Trump thinks he can stop senior espionage kingpins from remaining in the know, he will be mistaken, since such officials build up extensive at home and abroad.

    Trump’s on-brand outrage

    Susan Rice

      Tapper calls out Trump’s hypocrisy on clearances

    Even so, as Monday’s furor raged, it was clear it shared characteristics similar to many other Trump administration controversies.
    It reflected a desire to attack anyone associated with the Obama administration, for which the President harbors seething contempt — even though some of those on the list were apolitical appointees who served presidents of both parties.
    The announcement was also haphazard and may not have been fully thought through. Two of the people on the list — fired former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — no longer even have such clearances.
    But it is a eful drama for Trump becae it pits him against the Washington establishment — always a sweet spot that the base-pleasing President seeks to occupy.
    In a more sinister sense, the desire to censure former intelligence officials also fits with the President’s long obvio penchant for testing the boundaries of his power — for instance in breaking down traditional walls between the FBI and the ed to insulate the bureau for political interference.
    On Monday, Sanders hinted ominoly that Trump may have to get more “involved” in the Rsia investigation becae he regards it as a “witch hunt.”
    The idea of stripping clearances seems to have evolved from a suggestion by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a sometime Trump ally, that Brennan should be singled out. But it has been a frequent topic in conservative . The President has a habit of picking up ideas from the Fox vortex and turning them into political fodder.
    Ultimately, Monday’s developments pose another test for ’s institutions, which have so far largely kept Trump’s autocratic instincts in check. But they also raise the question of what’s next. a President can e his power to enact political retribution, could freedoms that ns have taken for granted for decades soon be imperiled?

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