Dems ramp up scrutiny of Kushner's security clearance

Dems ramp up scrutiny of Kushner's security clearance
© Getty
 
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations Can the Democrats unseat Trump? Democrats slam alleged politicization of Trump State Department after IG report MORE (D-Md.) upped the ante Friday when he threatened to subpoena the White House for documents and witness interviews regarding security clearances that the committee has already demanded.
 
Democrats are also taking an interest in the roles ex-White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and former White House counsel Donald McGahnDonald (Don) F. McGahnAmerica has no time to wait for impeachment Election agency limps into 2020 cycle The Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst MORE played in the process for Kushner's security clearance. Both former aides were reportedly closely involved in the process but have since left the Trump administration.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
The House Oversight and Reform Committee under new Democratic control first opened an investigation in January into the security clearance issues involving multiple current and former Trump administration officials, one of the sprawling probes surrounding the Trump White House.
 
The investigation immediately focused on Kushner, Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Cummings wrote to current White House counsel Pat Cipollone at the time asking for documents and transcribed interviews with all staff in the White House personnel security office.
 
But Cummings accused the White House on Friday of stonewalling the investigation and gave an ultimatum: start complying by Monday or face subpoenas.
 
"I am now writing a final time to request your voluntary cooperation with this investigation. I ask that you begin producing all responsive documents immediately, and I request that you begin scheduling transcribed interviews with each witness identified by the Committee," Cummings wrote in a letter to Cipollone.
 
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest letter from Cummings.
 
The New York Times first reported Thursday night that the president overruled concerns raised by intelligence officials to grant his son-in-law and top adviser in the White House a top-secret security clearance. Trump reportedly pushed for Kushner to receive the clearance in May.
 
The move alarmed officials enough that Kelly wrote an internal memo documenting how had been "ordered" to give Kushner the clearance, according to the Times. McGahn also wrote a memo detailing how he had recommended Kushner not receive a top-secret clearance.  
 
Trump previously told The New York Times in a January interview that he was "never involved" in Kushner's clearance.
 
"I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff," Trump said at the time.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
Officials had raised concerns about Kushner's contacts with foreign governments and investors, as well as initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. Kushner did not, for instance, report on his security clearance application a meeting during the 2016 campaign with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower claiming to have "dirt" on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Polls flash warning signs for Trump Polls suggest Sanders may be underestimated 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall MORE or a meeting with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
 
Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Florida first lady to miss Women for Trump event due to planned execution Trump adopts familiar mantra on possible recession: fake news MORE, counselor to the president, said Friday that Trump has the “absolute right” to involve himself in the security clearance process. She did not confirm or deny the reports that Trump ordered Kelly to approve Kushner's clearance.
 
“We don’t discuss security clearances. I am not even going to discuss my own. But I will tell you that the president has the absolute right to do what was described,” Conway said in a Fox News interview.
 
Cummings also on Friday publicly released what had previously been private correspondence with Cipollone since January.
 
"I have been negotiating in good faith — and in private — to try to obtain the information the Committee needs to conduct its investigation. However, over the past five weeks, the White House has stalled, equivocated, and failed to produce a single document or witness to the Committee," Cummings wrote.
 
In the most recent response from the White House, Cipollone questioned the committee's authority to demand documents regarding security clearances. 
 
"We must keep in mind the scope of Congress's legitimate authority in this area, and in particular, the limits on Congress's ability to conduct oversight into particular decisions concerning whether or not to grant security clearances to employees within the Executive Office of the President (EOP)," Cipollone wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Cummings. 
 
Some Democrats on the Oversight panel are raising the possibility of calling Kelly and McGahn to speak before the committee and provide the memos they reportedly wrote about the problems with Kushner obtaining a security clearance.
 
 
"I think we should look at, what troubled you about this? If it was just there was some technical glitches, why would Gen. Kelly be bothered by a presidential order overruling the objections of granting Mr. Kushner a security clearance? One has to assume, based on what we already know, that there were serious reasons not to grant the security clearance, not trivial or technical," Connolly told The Hill. 
 
 
"If [the White House] continue their noncompliance, I expect Chairman Cummings to use his subpoena power, and I would not be surprised if Mr. Kelly and Mr. McGahn thereafter become quickly acquainted with that subpoena power," Krishnamoorthi told The Hill on Friday.
 
A spokeswoman for Cummings said the committee will wait to see how the White House responds by the Monday deadline before making a decision on calling Kelly or McGahn. 
 
Democrats outside of the Oversight committee are also pushing other legislative action beyond the panel's investigation. 
 
Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Ted LieuTed W. LieuLawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator Cities are the future: We need to coordinate their international diplomacy George Conway opposes #unfollowTrump movement MORE (D-Calif.) have repeatedly called for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. They most recently did so in January following a report from NBC News that two career White House security specialists rejected Kushner's application for a clearance after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence, but a supervisor overruled them.
 
Beyer said he plans to introduce legislation soon to reform security clearance processes.
 
"This White House - and Jared Kushner - have demonstrated repeatedly that they cannot be trusted on these issues," Beyer said in a series of tweets. "I will step up my work on forthcoming legislation to help fix what went wrong here."
 
Meanwhile, Rep. Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralCongressional Hispanic Caucus calls for answers on Mississippi ICE raids Congressional Hispanic Caucus members call for diversity within the Fed Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE (D-N.Y.) unveiled a bill Friday titled the JARED (Judgment And Responsibility in Executing Determinations) Security Clearance Act, which would require notification to Congress if relatives or financial associates of the president receive security clearances against the recommendation of intelligence officials. It would also revoke Kushner's clearance and that of anyone else in a similar situation. 
 
"Mr. Kushner’s security clearance has rightfully been a point of contention," Espaillat said in a statement.
 
Scott Wong contributed.