Government service in Western democracies is often coveted by citizens who seek a stable, secure position with a regular pay cheque and a sense of serving the greater good of the nation. Government service is also often reviled and ridiculed by those outside government who are supposed to be the clients of public servants.
But there are real satisfactions in public service. The notion of helping to develop and implement policies that will improve lives continues to be a powerful attraction. With seniority and/or relevant expertise, civil servants can enjoy job satisfaction that may be hard to match in private life.
In Washington, Ottawa and major European capitals, high rank and position often require that employees obtain and maintain security clearances. These certifications are granted after background investigations and other checks on a person’s background and associations.
As the American government has grown in scope and influence under Democratic and Republican administrations alike since World War II, the importance of security clearances has also grown. Many government employees and contractors treasure them as prerequisites for higher level positions and even for eligibility for employment.
As contracting for the American government grows in size and complexity, two key factors have become paramount for job seekers. The first is a security clearance. The second is the technical ability to perform the task for which bidders are sought. Even a casual perusal of available government jobs reveals the significance of the security clearance.
In US President Trump’s continuing, escalating war with law enforcement and intelligence officials whose Russia investigation and other pursuits may threaten his tenure, it is not surprising Trump has now resorted to invalidating the security clearance of one of his most influential, persistent critics.
Trump’s target is John O Brennan, a career intelligence official who served prominently in the George W Bush administration and then as Assistant to President Barack Obama for Homeland Security and then, from 2013-17 as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The bully who occupies the White House clearly intends to intimidate the thousands of American government employees and contractors who may be or become involved in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election or other active law enforcement inquiries that touch Trump himself, his family or his allies. The vital importance of security clearances to those working for the American government has doubtless convinced Trump that this is a useful path to follow as he continues to try to sidetrack or decommission these investigations.
Brennan, a pugnacious Irishman, isn’t taking Trump’s retaliation quietly. “Trump has clearly become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him,” Brennan wrote in The New York Times.
Brennan has been nothing if not outspoken in his opposition to Trump’s methods. He has referred to the president’s actions as treasonous. In his article for The Times, Brennan said Trump’s denial of any collusion with Russia to affect the 2016 presidential election is “hogwash”.
Given Brennan’s former position at the helm of the CIA, it is especially hard to dismiss his views. He and other prominent intelligence and law enforcement officials have now begun to publicly urge Mueller to wrap up his investigation, no doubt hoping Mueller’s results will compel Trump’s exit or at least a moderation of his behaviour.
Others are carefully watching the proceedings at the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort across the river from Washington, DC in Alexandria, Virginia. There are those who continue to believe that a conviction in this case may produce results that could weaken Trump’s position or even hasten his departure from office.
Maybe Mueller’s investigation, Manafort’s trial or civil and criminal cases to come will do what the Republican congress has no will or wish to do. Maybe if the Democrats prevail in November, the scandals, corruption, incompetence and pure venality of this administration will cause it to somehow self-destruct. But betting on such an outcome is not a safe bet.
The greater likelihood is still that Trump will remain until 2020.