House Democrats are raising “serious concerns” with security clearances held by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, saying suspicions about his contacts with Russian officials should be enough to suspend his access to sensitive information.
“When there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, in a letter to the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. “Mr. Kushner reportedly failed to disclose contacts with dozens of foreign officials on his security clearance application.”
Aides to Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Cummings letter, which was also accompanied by a demand for Kushner’s security clearance application, and for “all documents and communications referring or relating to Mr. Kushner’s contacts or communications with Russian government officials or business representatives.” Cummings’ letter is the latest in a drumbeat of efforts by Democrats in Congress. More than 40 members wrote with similar concerns in May.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
As a senior adviser to President Trump and someone tasked with helping orchestrate Middle East peace talks, Kushner likely has access to highly sensitive intelligence. According to Cummings’ letter, his top-secret clearance is temporary pending a routine screening by the FBI.
The FBI has not identified Kushner as a target of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election recently taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources familiar with a parallel probe by the Senate intelligence committee, however, have confirmed to ABC News that Kushner’s previously undisclosed meetings with Russian officials have drawn the focus of their investigators. Senate investigators have requested documents from Kushner and are negotiating with him to arrange an interview. Through his attorney, Kushner has indicated his desire to cooperate with that probe.
The challenge to Kushner’s security clearance comes as the White House is facing questions about its decision to continue to allow Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to access to the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets as he served as President Trump’s national security adviser, even after Department of Justice officials warned that Flynn may have been susceptible to blackmail by Russian diplomats. The New York Times reported Wednesday that, for three weeks before he was fired, Flynn sat in on the most sensitive intelligence briefings in the White House.
Flynn has denied anything improper occurred during his contacts with the Russian ambassador, and sources close to Flynn have told ABC News they consider it ludicrous that anyone could have concluded he was vulnerable to blackmail.
Cummings, however, takes issue with the administration’s decision to continue allowing Flynn access to sensitive information after Justice Department lawyers had notified the White House of their concerns.
“Concerns about General Flynn’s false statements — as well as his concealment of communications with the Russian ambassador — raised obvious security concerns that should have resulted in an immediate suspension of his clearance while an investigation of the allegations proceeded,” Cummings wrote.
Kushner’s lawyer, former Clinton deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, has said that on Jan. 18 he filed an extensive security questionnaire known as the SF86, followed by an offer the next day to the FBI to provide omitted details of his Russian contacts during his background check interview by agents in person, the New York Times has reported.
The SF86 form requires applicants for security clearances to disclose — under criminal penalty for significant omissions — minute details of their life including specific dates and purposes of foreign travel and any “close and/or continuing contact” with foreign nationals or receipt of foreign payments in the previous seven years.
The fact that Kushner received an interim security clearance despite failing to disclose all of his contacts with the Russian ambassador and a Kremlin-owned bank is very unusual, according to one legal expert.
“It’s highly out of the ordinary for how it’s supposed to be done,” Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer who handles cases involving intelligence community workers’ clearance problems, told ABC News.
Investigators conducting government background checks for those applying for top-secret clearances understand that people make mistakes on their SF86 disclosures and sometimes have to submit supplemental information, but Moss said he’s never heard of an interim clearance being given to anyone who had failed to disclose contacts with a foreign government.
“If Kushner’s clearance is still being adjudicated, and there is this red flag of his failure to properly report numerous contacts with foreign government officials on his SF86, that would be major matter of concern in terms of him being in charge of this mission to the Middle East,” Moss said.
Ultimately, Cummings and House Democrats have no power to force the administration to rescind Kushner’s clearances. President Trump has final word on who gets a security clearance when it comes to his staff, as the chief executive by law is the ultimate authority.