The chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday threatened to subpoena the White House for information related to its protocol for distributing security clearances, following a report earlier in the day that President Donald Trump ordered his ex-chief of staff to grant a top-secret clearance to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser.
“The security clearance process is supposed to function in an even-handed and neutral manner based on the national security interests of the United States,” the chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said in a statement Thursday night. “This latest report indicates that President Trump may have granted access to our country’s most sensitive classified information to his son-in-law against the advice of career staff — directly contradicting the President’s public denials that he played any role.”
The New York Times reportedThursday that Trump instructed former White House chief of staff John Kelly in May 2018 to authorize a security clearance for Kushner, despite objections from Kelly, former White House counsel Don McGahn and U.S. intelligence officials.
In contemporaneous internal memos, Kelly wrote that he had been “ordered” to grant Kushner’s clearance, and McGahn outlined his objection to the president’s decision, The Times reported.
Trump told The Times in January that he had no role in Kushner’s receiving a clearance. White House adviser Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and Kushner’s wife, told ABC News in February that her father “had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance.”
A spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told The Times on Thursday: “In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.”
Congressional Democrats have sought to revoke Kushner’s clearance as far back as May 2017, and the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the White House security clearance process last month.
But Cummings said Thursday that administration officials had neither produced the documents nor scheduled the interviews he called for as part of that inquiry.
“The Committee expects full compliance with its requests as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance,” Cummings said.
Cummings previously said Thursday that he would pursue interviews with Ivanka Trump, Kushner and other close allies of the president whom former Trump attorney Michael Cohen implicated in his public testimony before Congress on Wednesday.
Top Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee also indicated that they would ramp up congressional scrutiny of the White House’s security clearance procedures, with Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) characterizing The Times’ report as “the latest indicator of the President’s utter disregard for our national security and for the men and women who sacrifice so much every day to keep us safe.”
Schiff said Thursday: “There is no nepotism exception for background investigations. Worse still was the White House’s oft-repeated lie that Kushner had been granted the clearance at the conclusion of a normal process. Reports indicate, moreover, that Kushner’s access to the nation’s most tightly held secrets, which require separate adjudication by the Intelligence Community, was restricted. This is a clear indication of the deep unease that national security officials have about Kushner’s suitability.”
Schiff said his committee “will be working closely” with Cummings’ panel “to support their investigation into the White House’s security clearance process.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Modernization and Readiness Subcommittee, said Thursday that he was “concerned the President has jeopardized our national security by putting clearances in the hands of unscrupulous people, and against the recommendations of background investigators.”
Swalwell added: “To ensure our deepest secrets are protected, we will work to ensure clearances are granted based on trust, not by blood or bond.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, urged members of the national security community on Thursday to “not share top secret information” with Kushner.
“Career security clearance professionals believed Jared Kushner was enough of a national security risk that he should not get a top secret clearance,” Lieu said, adding: “Trust the career professionals. Do the right thing. Your loyalty is to America, not to Kushner or Trump.”