Senate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances

Senate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances
© Aaron Schwartz

Senate Democrats are pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE to authorize a review of White House security clearances after the intelligence community inspector general and Office of Director of National Intelligence said they lacked the authority to do so.

Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson wrote in a letter to the senators earlier this month that he could not begin a review of the security clearance process without direction from Trump or one of his “designees” because “the authority over access to classified information ultimately rests with the President of the United States.”

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The group of senators, which includes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (Va.), asked Trump in a letter on Wednesday to order the director of national intelligence to begin the review, citing news reports about “questionable decisions” made regarding the security clearances of Trump’s daughter Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpAuthor of Steele dossier had 'cordial' relationship with Ivanka Trump: report Medicare administrator asked for reimbursement for stolen jewelry, clothing: report Tech finds surprise ally in Trump amid high-stakes tax fight MORE and her husband, senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerOn The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies White House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment MORE.

They wrote that Congress would need to “take a more direct role” in overseeing the security clearance process to safeguard national security if the White House ultimately declines to initiate such a review.

“We believe a new review is necessary to address the allegations that have been raised and, if necessary, implement corrective action,” the senators wrote. “Without such a review, it will be incumbent upon Congress to take a more direct role in overseeing and legislating on [Executive Office of the President] security clearances to protect national security.”  

The senators in early March asked Atkinson and Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE to begin a review of the Trump administration’s compliance with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to classified information.

Both responded earlier this month, declining to carry out the request because of the president’s broad authority over the issuance of security clearances.

“It is well-established that the President of the United States has broad latitude concerning the process through which security clearances are granted, transferred, or revoked, as well as broad flexibility in determining whom to choose as his advisors and to what extent those advisors may gain access to information, including national security information,” Atkinson wrote in a letter dated July 22.

“The Executive branch also has significant discretion when determining whether to grant security clearances and whether a particular person may have access to information,” he added. 

However, Atkinson said he would be willing to begin the review “given the concerns raised” by the senators in March if it were directed by Trump.

The letter sent Wednesday was signed by Warner, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHouston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence Life after Yucca Mountain: The time has come to reset US nuclear waste policy Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezForeign Relations Democrat calls on Iran to release other American prisoners GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' MORE (D-NJ) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (D-R.I.).

Separately, the House Oversight and Reform Committee has already launched an investigation into the security clearance process in the lower chamber. The committee, led by Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsImpeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Tucker Carlson calls Trump 'full-blown BS artist' in segment defending him from media coverage MORE (D-Md.), released a memo in April revealing that a career White House official told the panel that 25 security clearance denials had been reversed during the Trump administration. 

The panel has asked for documents and testimony from the White House related to the investigation.

The White House has given the panel briefings and documents related to the process but refused to turn over materials on specific clearances, describing the requests as out of scope of Congress's oversight authority.

The White House also allowed former personnel security director Carl Kline to answer the committee's questions behind closed doors with a White House lawyer present. 
 

--This report was updated at 1:03 p.m.