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Senators request review of White House security clearances

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote to President Trump to request that he direct a review of the Executive Office of the President’s (EOP) compliance with security clearance policies and procedures after several alarming media reports suggesting abuses in the process at the White House.

Photo Credit: W. Scott McGill

“Over the last two years, public reporting has raised serious concerns about irregularities and questionable decisions related to eligibility determinations for EOP personnel access to classified information.  Among other things, reports allege that individuals have been granted interim clearances, to include access to Secure Compartmented Information, without undergoing a complete background investigation; that the EOP has extended these temporary clearances  beyond the usual six month timeframe; that the EOP has overruled unfavorable adjudication recommendations by career security professionals in more than 30 cases; and that the EOP has threatened to revoke former officials’ eligibility for access to classified information for reasons other than the adjudicative guidelines,” the senators wrote.

The Democratic request follows an earlier letter sent in March 2019 to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG), requesting a review of the Trump administration’s compliance with security clearance protocols. In a pair of responses four months later, the DNI and the ICIG told the Senators that, despite having conducted such a review of the EOP’s practices in 2015, the DNI lacks the authority to conduct such a review unless expressly directed by the President.

According to press reports, President Trump ignored objections from then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn and then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to grant security clearances to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner. Additional reports have alleged that former White House Staff Secretary Robert Porter was allowed to handle extremely sensitive information for over a year with an interim clearance, despite his record of domestic abuse, and that the White House overturned at least 30 clearance adjudication recommendations made by career security professionals.

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

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s abuse of the security clearance process. He believes it significantly distracts from the shared agenda that he has with the administration to reform an antiquated process that does not reflect today’s threats, use advanced technologies and analytics, or support an increasingly mobile workforce. He has championed comprehensive legislation, included in the Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, to modernize the government’s security clearance system and reduce the background investigation backlog. He has also teamed up with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the integrity of the security clearance process and ensure that it cannot be abused for political purposes.