Trump's attempts to stifle dissent

Two strategies being employed by the Trump White House — threatening to strip officials of their security clearances and requiring the signing of non-disclosure agreements — have the common goal of stifling dissent. It is becoming a distressing trademark of this administration.

President Trump’s decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance was not taken because of any evidence that Brennan breached security protocols, but rather because he has been harshly critical of the president and directed the intelligence agency at the time it was uncovering Russian interference in the 2016 election.

On Trump’s order, the White House has drafted documents for a long list of other current and former officials to be at the ready if the president decides to revoke their security clearances because they are also critics and or participated in the Russia investigation. Citing administration sources, the Washington Post reports that names on the list include former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director and National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

The president is not even making any pretenses as to what this is about; punishing critics and cleansing the intelligence ranks of those speaking truths he doesn’t want to hear.

"I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham. And these people led it. So I think it's something that had to be done," the president told the Wall Street Journal. "I don't trust many of those people on that list. I think that they're very duplicitous. I think they're not good people."

Translation: If you don’t toe the president’s line you are unworthy.

Democrats and Republicans in the intelligence community recognize the danger posed by Trump’s action against Brennan and his threat to move against others.

“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threat of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” read a statement signed by 14 CIA directors and deputy directors. The officials served under Republican and Democratic presidents.

And on Friday, 60 former CIA officials issued a joint statement, “Former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as national security issues without fear of being punished.”

In addition to stifling dissent on national security issues, the precedent set by Trump’s actions could discourage quality people from seeking public service in this and future administrations. And by leaving current intelligence officers powerless to fully brief a former official on a security matter, it can block them from effectively tapping the official's experience and insight when a threat emerges.

In a related matter, the public only recently learned of the administration’s extensive use of non-disclosure agreements, required to be signed by campaign and administration staff in an effort to prevent future criticism. The practice became known when the Trump campaign filed an arbitration action against former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, saying her speaking tour and book “Unhinged,” which is critical of the president and alleges bigoted behavior, violated her NDA.

The problem for the administration and the Trump campaign is that members of the White House and campaign staff have First Amendment rights. With the exception of national security matters or proprietary campaign information, the courts are unlikely to uphold a NDA that protects an administration from insider-informed criticism.

In a recent letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., raised another issue — the NDA’s conflict with a federal law that makes it clear federal employees cannot be intimidated or silenced when seeking to disclose malfeasance or illegal activity. The Blumenthal letter, also signed by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., asks McGahn to clarify for White House staff that the whistleblower law supersedes any NDA.

He should.

By using bullying tactics to silence dissent — attacks on unfavorable news as fake, threats of removing security clearances, imposition of NDAs — the Trump White House appears intent on creating its own reality. The public should not let them get away with it.

“Truth isn’t truth,” said former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, now an attorney for the president, when questioned Sunday by Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press as to why the president isn’t prepared to simply tell the truth in response to questions by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

That Orwellian answer is all you need to know about this administration.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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