Press Secretary Sarah Sanders takes questions from the media and makes a statement about the president's war with former intelligence community members.
The White House announced Wednesday they were revoking former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance, after he became a harsh critic of President Donald Trump, accusing him of treason on cable TV.
"Historically, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service so that they can consult with their successors regarding matters about which they may have special insights and as a professional courtesy," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a Wednesday briefing. "Neither of these justifications supports Mr. Brennan's continued access classified information."
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH SANDERS: Good afternoon.
I'd like to begin by reading a statement from the president:
As the head of the executive branch and commander in chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation's classified information, including by controlling access to it. Today, in fulfilling that responsibility, I've decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Historically, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service so that they can consult with their successors regarding matters about which they may have special insights, and as a professional courtesy. Neither of these justifications supports Mr. Brennan's continued access to classified information. SANDERS: First, at this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.
Second, that conduct and behavior has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him. Mr. Brennan has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility. In 2014 for example, he denied to Congress that CIA officials under his supervision had improperly accessed the computer files of congressional staffers.
He told the Council on Foreign Relations that the CIA would never do such a thing. The CIA's Inspector General however contradicted Mr. Brennan directly, concluding unequivocally that agency officials had indeed improperly accessed congressional staffers files.
More recently, Mr. Brennan told Congress that the intelligence community did not make use of the so-called Steele dossier in an assessment regarding the 2016 election, an assertion contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts.
Additionally, Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.
Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets and facilities the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.
More broadly, the issue of Mr. Brennan's security clearance raises larger questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation's most sensitive secrets long after their time in government has ended.
Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks. Any access granted to our nation's secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal interest.
For this reason, I have also begun to review the more general question of the access to classified information by government officials. As part of this review, I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals, James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.
Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked and those who have already lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated.
It is for the foregoing reasons that I've exercised my constitutional authority to deny Mr. Brennan access to classified information and I will direct appropriate staff of the National Security Council to make the necessary arrangements with the appropriate agencies to implement this determination.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Jonathan [Karl, ABC News]?
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS, QUESTION: Sarah, first I've got a question I wanted to ask -- but first, just to follow up on that, is -- it seems like everybody that you mentioned has been a political critic of the president. Is he going after his political opponents with this?
SANDERS: No, if there were others that weren't that we deemed necessary, we would certainly take a look and review those, as well.
QUESTION: OK. I -- I wanted to ask you about something the president's attorney said. Rudy Giuliani said of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller needs to write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it. And he said if it's not written within the next two or three weeks, quote "he will just unload on him like a ton of bricks."
Is the president OK with his attorney threatening the Special Counsel in this way?
SANDERS: Certainly we've made clear we'd like to see this wrap up. For questions specific about comments by Mr. Giuliani, I'd refer you back to him.
QUESTION: Was that authorized by the president?
SANDERS: Once again, for questions specific about the investigation, particularly comments from Rudy Giuliani, I'd refer you back to him to address those.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Following up on John's question, how is this announcement by the president -- how can Americans not interpret that as a getting back against his critics? And isn't it also an -- an attempt to curtail their freedom of speech by penalizing them for -- for being critical on television?
SANDERS: Not at all. The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it, and that's what he's doing, is fulfilling that responsibility in this action. This is actually specific to Mr. Brennan and the others are currently under review.
QUESTION: Is this the kind of precedent he wants to set for future presidents when his administration is out of office, and why are there no Republicans on that list?
SANDERS: Once again, if we deemed it necessarily, we would certainly look into that and be happy to review those.