It appears that weeks before the American people knew that Donald Trump would be revoking former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, and days before the White House memo declaring it, Russia knew.
Specifically, a Russian billionaire with known connections to Vladimir Putin tweeted out a list of names and declared their security clearance void. John Brennan was on that list. Two days later, Trump announced he was revoking Brennan’s security clearance. Three weeks later, the American public was informed.
Artem Klyushin, a Russian billionaire with a reported close friendship to Vladimir Putin, is also quite proud of his connections to Donald Trump, judging from his social media. Below you can see a tweet from 2013, in which he boasted of business dealings with Trump.
— АРТЕМ КЛЮШИН (@ARTEM_KLYUSHIN) November 9, 2013
This would be the same Miss Universe Pageant visit Trump looked forward to on Twitter, wondering if he’d get to meet Vladimir Putin during the festivities. There are allegations that connections during that trip would lead to Russia’s involvement in the Trump path to the presidency, as NPR covered last year.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
Now, a tweet from this same purported connection between the two has gone somewhat viral, as people realize the timeline. According to Business Insider, the revocation of John Brennan’s security clearance that America learned about on August 15 was announced by Donald Trump in a White House memo dated July 26 — three weeks before it became public.
However, it was announced two days before that, on July 24th, on Twitter by none other than the aforementioned Russian operative, Artem Klyushin, via his verified account.
Экс-директоры ЦРУ Джон Бреннан и Майкл Хэйден, экс-директор ФБР Джеймс Коми и его заместитель Эндрю МакКейб, экс-директор Национальной разведслужбы Джеймс Клаппер, экс-советник по нацбезопасности Сьюзан Райс прощаются с доступами к секретным материалам. Welcome to the real world! pic.twitter.com/nBr8zlZeyR
— АРТЕМ КЛЮШИН (@ARTEM_KLYUSHIN) July 24, 2018
The Bing auto-translation of the tweet is as follows:
Former CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, former FBI director James [Comey] and his deputy Andrew McCabe, former director of the National Intelligence James Clapper, ex-adviser on Homeland Susan Rice are forgiven for access to classified materials. Welcome to the real world!
The New York Times published a list of ten individuals whose security clearance Trump is reviewing. In addition to Brennan, they include every other name in the tweet from Klyushin — James Clapper, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Michael Hayden and James Comey — as well as Sally Yates, Peter Strozk, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr. All are people who have criticized Trump or served in a capacity he could see as undermining his presidency or opposing him politically.
After Trump’s announcement was made public, a Russian History Twitter account boasted of it, tweeting, in Russian, “Now that’s how we make a story,” and sharing Klyushin’s original predictive tweet. Klyushin appeared to approve of this interpretation of his input — he, in turn, retweeted that analysis.
Trump had previously spoken of the possibility, actually positing the option during a press conference on July 23, according to CNN. However, it’s not typical for a security clearance to be revoked unless the individual is considered compromised or a risk — so exceptionally not typical that when Trump spoke on July 23, the question was less whether he would do such a thing as a punitive measure than whether he could. Attorney Bradley Moss, writing for Lawfare, said at the time that if Trump acted to remove security clearances without a demonstrable national security risk, he would likely be the first president to ever do so, and that it could be a public relations and legal issue.
It would set up a serious clash of constitutional questions between the inherent authority of the president regarding classified information, the procedural due-process rights of clearance holders under the Fifth Amendment, and the extent to which the judiciary is even permitted to rule on the matter.
This makes the situation more complicated than Klyushin simply assuming Trump would revoke security clearances because he said he might, especially since one thing that is not unprecedented is Trump suggesting actions that he can’t or won’t actually follow up — such as having Hillary Clinton jailed, or pardon himself.
There are no clear answers forthcoming from the White House about why a Putin ally would announce a White House intelligence decision before the president announced it himself, and long before the American people were informed.
Artem Klyushin’s tweet could have been inside information, a suggestion, or a mere prediction. However, it will be a matter of interest to see whether Donald Trump continues, in days ahead, to carry out the plans tweeted by one of his most public connections to Vladimir Putin.