Dems want answers from FBI on security clearances

Dems want answers from FBI on security clearances
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House Democrats are upping the pressure on the Trump administration to explain apparent inconsistencies in how it handles security clearances. 

In a Tuesday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoDem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' Poll shows McSally, Kelly tied in Arizona Senate race Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona MORE (D-Ariz.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) expressed heightened concerns that top White House officials without permanent security clearances are nonetheless accessing highly classified materials, thereby posing a threat to national security.

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“Due to the seniority of several White House officials who reportedly have not received positive security clearance adjudications and the extremely sensitive information that the President must receive in order to do his job, we are concerned that individuals who do not have — and may never receive — proper clearances nevertheless have access to view and handle such information,” the Democrats wrote.

The lawmakers don’t mention any names, but the letter arrives as White House officials are scrambling to defend themselves from accusations that they turned a blind eye to domestic abuse allegations swirling around Rob Porter, a top aide to President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE who resigned hastily last week in the face of abuse accusations from his two ex-wives.

Wray complicated that defense on Tuesday when he told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the FBI completed a background check investigation of Porter last summer, contradicting the timeline offered by Trump’s team. 

“I can’t get into the content of what was briefed; what I can tell you is the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July,” he said.

The FBI provided the White House with subsequent reports in November and January, Wray added. 

The White House quickly refuted the chain of events. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing that, while the FBI background check might have ended, the White House Personnel Security Office was still sorting through the reports provided by the bureau. 

"The process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned," Sanders said

Another White House spokesman, Raj Shah, had delivered a similar defense last week. He indicated that Porter “was operating on an interim security clearance” before his resignation. Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFive things to know about Trump confidant Tom Barrack Dems open new front against Trump Dems launch investigation into Trump administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia MORE, another senior aide who’s also Trump’s son-in-law, has also been advising the president on an interim status.

It’s that distinction that’s raised the eyebrows of Gallego, Lieu and Beyer, who want answers from Wray about just how many White House officials have secured a permanent security clearance; how many are still undergoing background checks; and how long an “interim” status can be extended pending an investigation. 

Additionally, the lawmakers have asked the FBI director to clarify the agency's procedures for firing candidates who fail the clearance check, as well as the process for recovering sensitive information that might have been accessed by such an employee.  

“As you know, unauthorized disclosure of CONFIDENTIAL information can be expected to cause damage to national security. Unauthorized disclosure of SECRET information can be expected to cause serious damage to national security. Unauthorized disclosure of TOP SECRET information can be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security,” the Democrats wrote.

“For this reason, any systemic, known, or otherwise inappropriate disclosure of classified information to unsuitable, insecure, or unauthorized persons represents a major security threat.”

The lawmakers have requested a response within 30 days.