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 TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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.”


The group of senators, which includes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges 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 TrumpThe White House and schools have this in common: Asbestos President tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE and her husband, senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump allies say A$AP Rocky was supposed to thank him but his team stopped 'returning our text messages': report President tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' 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 Coats10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall 11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move 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 FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-NJ) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill What the gun safety debate says about Washington Senators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings 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 CummingsGOP Oversight report says Interior head met with group tied to former clients Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision Nikki Haley voices 'complete support' for Pence 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.