The politics of security clearances

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," July 23, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SARAH SANDERS: Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he is also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they have politicized end in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances. Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: White House press briefing today and talking about security clearances. It started with Senator Rand Paul. He had the biggest concerns. Take a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: There is a great danger to having people on television who are speaking off-the-cuff who are getting classified information. There's a great danger that they could reveal something that they shouldn't reveal. And so yes, I think this should apply really to most people who are retired. I can't imagine other than in a transition from one administration to the next why you would allow top-secret clearance to people who are no longer active.


BAIER: The White House is buying that and reviewing the security clearances for John Brennan, James Comey, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, Susan Rice, and Andrew McCabe.

With that, let's bring in our panel: senior political analyst Brit Hume; Chris Stirewalt, politics editor here at Fox News; Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post, and we welcome Judge Jeanine Pirro, host of "Justice with Judge Jeanine" here on Fox and author of the new book, "Liars, Leakers, and Liberals." This is a friendly confines I think, different than some of your appearances, but we'll talk about that.

Brit, what about the security clearances?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: I've never heard of this being done. I wasn't even aware that those guys still had security clearances, although I guess I'm not surprised. It will be said that it's unprecedented on his part, but of course the behavior of some of these former senior intelligence officials has been unprecedented as well. They have rarely, in the past, engaged in the kind of attacks of a political nature that we've seen from some of these people, Brennan in particular.

I don't think McCabe still has security clearance, so I think he's probably out of the picture. But this will suck up all the oxygen in the room for a couple of days and we'll be talking about it. I don't think it amounts to very much, I don't think there's a lot of evidence that classified information has been improperly disclosed by these people or that they will be much affected by the loss of their clearance, although it could be embarrassing, which may be with the administration is looking at.

BAIER: Chuck, opponents are saying this is political retribution, a White House shouldn't do this. Michael Hayden, I saw a tweet, it doesn't matter to me.

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is political retribution. They've been going after him hammer and tongs and now he's pushing back. The president has repeatedly said if somebody hits you hard you hit them back twice as hard, and this is part of what he's doing.

There's a distinction to be drawn between what Rand Paul was suggesting, which was a blanket removal of all former officials' security clearances. That's a reasonable proposal, but this is selective. This is picking out six people who have been his worst critics and accusing them of monetizing and so on. And I think it's true, as Brit said, that they have been pretty out there in their statements as well, but I guess we all just have to make a judgment. Who is it on to rise above it? Is it the president of the United States or is it these formal officials?

BAIER: Judge?

JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: What generally happens is you have to ask the question, why do they have security clearances? Apparently there's a sunset, and in order for you to continue with your clearance, you have to request it. And then there's a whole process through which you go.

But to me the issue is this. Why do we need to talk to them? Why do they need the clearance? It's apparently because they have institutional knowledge. But to your point, when someone who is the head of the CIA says that the president is wholly in the pocket of Putin and he has security clearance, I think the people say he's probably more credible. He's got to know something that we don't know. So what is the point? Does Jimmy Carter still have his security clearance? We don't really know what the process is.

BAIER: Chris?

CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS: Jimmy Carter is a member of the ex-presidents club, he's got it all, as former president, and the reason that Jimmy Carter can go look at these things, it might be that one of his successors said will you please come advise me and help me. And the reason that we in the United States keep the security clearances around for these guys is so that in a moment of crisis or if there's an urgent question that somebody, as the judge says, has institutional knowledge, you can call them back and say, OK, you worked on Russia in the 1990s. Do you know about this, do you know about that?

As far as monetizing goes, and that goes to Rand Paul's point, the monetization of security clearance in Washington, D.C., is a big deal because you have a lot of defense firms and a lot of contracting firms that are providing services to the federal government that you can't work for without a security clearance. So that's a whole other kettle of fish.

BAIER: Meanwhile, Iran and what the president tweeted, what has been said, and the focus on Iran. Take a listen.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT: Do not play with the lion's tail or else you will regret it. It will bring you eternal regret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, any concerns about provoking tensions with Iran?


SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate. It's like an Iranian unicorn.

Some believe that President Rouhani and foreign minister Zarif fit that bill. The truth is they are merely polished front men for the ayatollah's international con artistry.


BAIER: So big focus on this tweet. "To Iranian President Rouhani, never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious." In capital letters.

Zarif from Iran, "Color us unimpressed" in capital letter. "The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago, and Iranians have heard them, albeit more civilized ones, for 40 years. We have been around for millennia and see the fall of empires, including our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries." Again capitals, "Be cautious." Brit, what about this?

HUME: I think the thing to watch here is not so much this exchange of tweets but what Mike Pompeo said in that speech yesterday which is clearly intended to give what the administration plainly believes is an administration in Iran that is on shaky political ground a nudge in the hope that it may fold.

The administration will say, of course, that we don't have a policy of regime change, but they certainly are acting like they do and they are acting like they think that this regime in Iran may be ripe for just that. The comments from him about the mafia-like behavior of those leaders over there, about the personal fortunes they have amassed while the Iranian people are suffering under sanctions, is clearly aimed right at the Iranian people.

BAIER: Secretary Pompeo's speech was pretty expensive at the Ronald Reagan Library last night. But judge, when you look at the blueprint here, if you look at these tweets, it kind of matches North Korea, and some people in this town are saying this means that we are heading for a summit with Rouhani sometime soon.

PIRRO: I think it makes sense. I think that what Donald Trump does is he talks in a language that people at the other and understand, which is how he ended up sitting down with rocket man. I think that this kind of language recognizes two things. All of the problems that are going on in Iran right now because of their economy and all of the problems that they are having, but also it recognizes that there are diplomats that are Iranian diplomats who are involved in some very dangerous situations like the attempted bombing a couple of weeks ago in Paris.

BAIER: Chris?

STIREWALT: What Russia's part in this is is going to be fascinating to see because as we deal with Iran we are really talking about the coming partition of Syria. We are talking about Russia's role behind Iran, backing Iran to the hilt in this stuff.

BAIER: And we don't know what was said in that meeting.

STIREWALT: And we have no idea what's on the table here in terms of was the president able to get some concession about Iran from the ruler of Russia and back and forth. So there is some real -- there are a lot of cards on the table right now. We're going to be in for some very interesting six months or so.

BAIER: Chuck?

LANE: I don't know if this is the prelude to a full-blown summit meeting, but Chris is right in calling our attention to the coming deal that's about to be done over Syria. And certainly if you, President Trump, are preparing to maybe concede Iran some influence in Syria, a way to prepare the ground for that domestically would be to pound the table and threaten them. I have to say, I sure hope it was an empty threat because I don't know that a war with Iran or that responding to something that can be called a threat with the kind of response the president outlined there is necessarily a threat we are going to want to have to follow up on.

BAIER: Here again, Secretary Pompeo from that Ronald Reagan speech.


POMPEO: I have a message for the people of Iran. The United States hears you. The United States supports you, the United States is with you. For 40 years they have heard from their leaders that America is the Great Satan. We do not believe they are interested in hearing the fake news any longer.


BAIER: Brit, this is something the Obama administration obviously didn't do because they were so intent on getting that deal as a legacy deal. But this administration has reached --

HUME: We are almost back to where Iran is concerned, the freedom agenda of George W. Bush. This is saying we are standing with you, and the subtext is please overthrow the government. We are with you. And I think that's where we are. I think, as I said before, I think as bombastic as the president's tweet was it is far less important I think to watch than what Pompeo had to say.

BAIER: And then when you hear Senator Jeff Flake say foreign policy by tweet is not the right thing to do, what do you think?

PIRRO: I think that what Donald Trump does is he has an impact on people. And when you think about how Obama, just as you mentioned, President Obama tried to influence, dance with the devil in Iran, just did anything to make sure that he could get that deal done, I think that this president, by being more direct, he's getting a response other presidents haven't.

BAIER: Finally, Chuck, this interview with Daniel Ortega.

LANE: Daniel Ortega has shown the distance he's traveled since the mid and late 1980s when I was covering Nicaragua as a foreign correspondent down there. It's pretty amazing to think of this ultra-leftist now coming on Fox News and attempting to influence President Donald Trump's view of him.

BAIER: Do you think he was trying to influence --

LANE: I don't know actually what he was trying to do because his message was so muddled and confusing. I just want to clarify for people who are watching what is actually going on in a Nicaragua, which is that there was a peaceful protest movement that he and his paramilitary groups that respond to his political party went out and crushed with a great deal of violence and led to this massacre that has gone on in Nicaragua, very much like, as they say, the same thing Anastasio Somoza as the '70s. It would be wonderful to sit around and reflect on the irony if it weren't such a potential catastrophe, which may have implications for us as well.

BAIER: We've been following it a lot here. But Chris, it was a little surreal to hear him say I don't have anything to do with any of those.

STIREWALT: Exactly. Gambling, gambling here? But I would just say every American who hears that and watches what's going on in Nicaragua should remember this is why we have to get our politics right, because what's going on there is mob versus mob, violence versus violence. Violence in the streets. This is why we have to preserve our institutions. This is we have to preserve civil discourse and respect for each other, because the road gets short quicker than you think.

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