House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he thinks President Trump is just “trolling people” by looking into revoking security clearances for top Obama administration national security officials.
Ryan downplayed the controversy a day after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the president was considering revoking clearances for former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and other ex-officials who have since emerged as critics of his presidency.
Democrats slammed Trump for the move, but Ryan suggested it shouldn't be taken too seriously.
“I think he’s trolling people, honestly,” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday. “This is 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 really not in our purview.”
Ryan added: “I think he’s just trolling people.”
Sanders accused the former officials of having “politicized” or “monetized” their public service, in a reference to network contributor gigs and book deals some have gotten.
Sanders said that Trump was “exploring mechanisms” to remove the clearances because [the former officials] politicized and in some cases actually monetized their public service and their security clearances in making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia.”
Sanders added that their clearances effectively give “inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”
The topic came into the spotlight Monday after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., accused Brennan of monetizing his clearance as a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC.
But the former deputy chief of staff for Brennan at the CIA, Nick Shapiro, blasted the accusation as false.
“John Brennan hasn’t made one penny off of his clearance,” Shapiro said in a statement to Fox News. “Not one thing he has done for remuneration since leaving the government has been contingent on him having a security clearance.”
Shapiro added: “One doesn’t need a security clearance to speak out against the failings of Trump. This is a political attack on career national security officials who have honorably served their country for decades under both Repubs & Dems in an effort to distract from Mueller’s investigation.”
Further, as Ryan mentioned, some former officials listed by the White House apparently already lost their clearances upon leaving their posts.
Take former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was on the list. McCabe spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the former deputy FBI director’s clearance was deactivated when he was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March.
“Andrew McCabe’s security clearance was deactivated when he was terminated, according to what we were told was FBI policy. You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps…,” Schwartz tweeted Monday.
And a friend of Comey, Benjamin Wittes, tweeted Monday afternoon that he texted the former FBI director, who told him he doesn’t have a security clearance to revoke.
Still, clearances can remain automatically “active” for several years after an official departs government service.
Fox News’ Marie Harf, Samuel Chamberlain and Pamela K. Browne contributed to this report.