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 TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? 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 WarnerFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces 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 TrumpTrump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia Ivanka Trump talking to lawmakers about gun reform legislation: report Assistant secretary of State resigns after immigration clash: report MORE and her husband, senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia Trump administration releases new 'public charge' rule making it easier to reject immigrants The road from Jerusalem to Riyadh still runs through Ramallah 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 CoatsTrump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program 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 FeinsteinTrump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHouse passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback Democrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border MORE (D-NJ) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings Senate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador 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 CummingsDemocrats slam alleged politicization of Trump State Department after IG report Senior Trump officials accused of harassing, retaliating against career State Dept. employees Overnight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe 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.