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Comey on Trump finances: Debt can make officials 'vulnerable to coercion by an adversary'

Comey on Trump finances: Debt can make officials 'vulnerable to coercion by an adversary'
© Stefani Reynolds

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeySpies are trying to influence the election — US spies, that is GOP former US attorneys back Biden, say Trump 'threat to rule of law' Biden's polling lead over Trump looks more comfortable than Clinton's MORE on Wednesday warned that government officials with significant personal debt could pose a risk to national security.

Comey, who was responding to a question about President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE's finances during congressional testimony, said personal debt is a serious consideration when granting security clearances because it could be leveraged by a foreign foe.

"A person's financial situation could make them vulnerable to coercion by an adversary and allow an adversary to do what we try to do to foreign government officials we find are indebted, which is to try to recruit them to our side," Comey told Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-Ill.) during remote testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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"This is a serious issue in any background review," said Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017.

Durbin referenced a recent New York Times bombshell report about Trump's tax returns, which found that the president has personal debt exceeding $400 million, most of which is coming due in the next few years.

Trump, who is under audit by the IRS, might owe an additional $100 million if there is an adverse ruling by the tax-collecting agency, the Times reported.

In a statement to the Times, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten said "most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate" in the article.

Comey's comments on Wednesday are in line with the warnings of other former national security officials, who say debt is a security vulnerability.

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"As a general matter, are there serious risks when someone with hundreds of millions of personal debt has access, as the president does, to all the country's classified and sensitive information?" Durbin asked Comey.

"It is a serious concern when anyone seeking or with a clearance has that kind of financial vulnerability. I don't know the particulars of the president's case, but in general, yes," Comey replied.

During a separate part of the hearing, Comey was questioned about Trump's financial ties to countries like the Russia.

“I don’t know whether the Russians have something over President Trump, but it is difficult to explain his conduct, his statements in any other way, especially as a refusal to criticize [Russian President] Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinGuard stabbed at French Consulate in Saudi Arabia The US must not lose the cyberwar with Russia Chechen leader: Macron's stance on Muhammad cartoons 'forcing people into terrorism' MORE. So it raises significant questions and obviously the question is only deepened by disclosure, if it is true, of significant indebtedness," Comey said.