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 alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump 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 WarnerBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Congress ends its year under shadow of COVID-19 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 has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report Comedy duo posts 'Ivanka Trump Not Wanted' posters around NYC The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday MORE and her husband, senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Trump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report Trump, Kushner, White House sued by watchdog to prevent illegal deletion of official emails, WhatsApp messages 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 CoatsBiden soars as leader of the free world Lobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him 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 FeinsteinCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot Bottom line Incoming Congress looks more like America MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (D-NJ) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up 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 CummingsVoters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? 'Kamala' and 'Kobe' surge in popularity among baby names 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.