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Inside D.C.: Thornberry says president shouldn’t base security clearance decisions on statements

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018
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Breakfast with a Congressman

BREAKFAST WITH A CONGRESSMAN – U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry was the guest speaker at Saturday’s Wise County Veterans Group breakfast in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry said Saturday he doesn’t believe the president should pick who has their security clearances taken away once they leave government service based on what they say about him.

Instead, he suggested that extending security clearances for those who have left their government jobs may not be necessary in the first place.

His remarks were made during the weekly breakfast meeting of the Wise County Veterans Group at the Decatur Conference Center.

Thornberry, who represents Wise County as part of the 13th U.S. Congressional District and is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, shared what he said was his personal opinion on the matter after being asked what could be done to create a law that would require people leaving government service to lose their top secret clearances.

Veterans Breakfast

VETERANS BREAKFAST – Members of the Wise County Veterans Group heard Congressman Mac Thornberry address a number of national defense-related topics during his talk at the group’s weekly breakfast meeting. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“My personal opinion … is that I don’t think that automatically continuing to have a security clearance for these folks who have left office is necessary,” he said. “Now the argument has been, ‘Well, we might need to consult with them about something they did.’ Well, you can grant a limited clearance for a particular purpose, but to automatically as a courtesy extend – forever, I guess – the clearances for some of these people is not necessary and probably needs to be examined.

“At the same time, I do not think the president ought to pick one person out and say, ‘I’m taking your clearance away because I don’t like what you are saying.’ I think you make a much better case to do it across the board for everybody, (to) say, ‘When you don’t need that clearance to do your job, you don’t have it any more.’ I think that makes more sense.”

While Thornberry didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, the issue of revoking security clearances for those no longer serving in their government roles has been in the spotlight recently after Trump last Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan and threatened to do the same for nine more people. All 10 have either made critical comments about the president or are involved in the investigation into Russian election interference.

In response to the action involving Brennan, more than a dozen former CIA directors – which includes those from Republican and Democratic administrations – and a former director of national intelligence released a signed statement in support of Brennan and claimed that the president’s actions are an attempt to stifle free speech.

Thornberry said the president has the authority to grant security clearances or to withhold them, but Congress has not yet looked at mandating the loss of security clearance once people leave their government jobs.

“We might get into a little bit of ‘you don’t really have the power to do that because it’s the president’s authority,’ but I don’t know. It’s something that we can at least explore. I’d have to talk to some lawyers about how far we could go with that,” he said.

Thornberry also talked to the veteran’s group about national defense topics, including the defense authorization bill signed into law on Monday.

“This year is the first time it’s been signed into law before the Oct. 1 fiscal year since 1997. It is the earliest it’s been signed into law since 1977,” he said.

The bill passed with large bipartisan support and includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for the military, the largest raise in nine years, he added.

It also works to fix what Thornberry called the “readiness problem,” meaning more money is available for maintaining items such as planes and ships as well as for more training.

“Last year, in 2017, we lost many more service members to training accidents than were killed in combat, and part of the reason is we let the defense budget be cut by 20 percent over the last eight years, and the world did not get 20 percent safer,” he said.

Thornberry began his remarks by recognizing County Judge J.D. Clark and talked about how Clark shared his ideas about improving broadband access in the county with him a few months ago. The congressman said he was able to share some of those ideas with members of the agriculture committee to include in the farm bill that has passed out of the House but not the Senate yet.

“It’s an example of where he studies a problem and figures out what needs to be done, and because he communicates and lets me know what needs to be done, we were able to get things done that will not only improve broadband access in Wise County but in other counties as we go forward,” Thornberry said.

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