The chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, demanded that the White House turn over security clearance records, following a New York Times report that President Trump ordered chief of staff John Kelly to give his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance last May, bypassing the concerns of Kelly, the White House counsel, and intelligence officials.
Citing four people who were briefed on the matter, the Times report said that senior administration officials including Kelly were "troubled" by the president's decision, so much so that Kelly wrote a memo at the time saying that he had been "'ordered'" to give Kushner the clearance. Don McGahn, the White House counsel, also penned an internal memo containing concerns raised by the CIA about Kushner. According to the Times, McGahn recommended against giving Kushner the clearance.
The report contradicts Mr. Trump's past statements indicating he would not and did not weigh in on Kushner's security clearance.
As CBS News' Margaret Brennanalmost exactly a year ago, if Mr. Trump wanted to override Kelly on Kushner's clearance, it would have been well within his power. But when he was asked about it at the time, at a press conference with the Australian prime minister, he said he would defer to Kelly.
"I will let General Kelly make that decision," Mr. Trump said. "I have no doubt he'll make the right decision." He told the Times in an interview in January that he "was never involved" in Kushner's clearance. "I was never involved with the security" clearances for Kushner, the president said. "I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don't want to get involved in that stuff."
Asked directly by the Times' Maggie Haberman in that same interview, "And you didn't direct General Kelly or anyone like that to do it (overrule security officials)," Haberman asked. "No, and frankly, I never thought it was necessary to do so," Mr. Trump said.
Cummings told White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to produce the security clearance records — which are part of an existing request — "immediately" and asked that each witness identified by the committee be scheduled for an interview.
But Cipollone has been resisting the committee's requests, arguing in a lengthy letter in February that Cummings is overstepping the committee's jurisdiction in trying to review individual security decision clearances. He wrote that this "remains an area where the President's authority derives directly from the Constitution and exists quite apart from any Act of Congress." He argued that "intertwined" with the president's authority over national security information is the president's need "to exercise judgment in determining which advisers he credentials with access to classified information."
The White House counsel has said the committee's staff can review — but it can't have — documents related to the clearance process. Cipollone also objected to the committee's attempts to reach Kelly directly at his residence and asked Cummings, "as a matter of basic courtesy," to tell his staff to consult with the White House counsel's office to "ensure that the Committee efficiently obtains access to the information and individuals to which it is entitled."
In February 2018, Kelly hadKushner's security clearance after announcing he'd take away the top interim clearances of White House staff with permanent clearances that had been submitted before June 2017 and that had by February 2018 not yet been approved. Kushner fell into this category, though it was not entirely clear why.
However, Brennan reported that officials in the White House had been concerned that Kushner was "naive and being tricked" in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they only wanted to deal with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel. Several officials throughout the national security and foreign policy team of the Trump administration have had concerns that Kushner is vulnerable to manipulation.
Peter Mirijanian, spokesperson for Abbe Lowell, who is Kushner's attorney released a statement on Kushner's clearance: "In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner's security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time."
Ivanka Trump categorically denied that her father had anything to do with her husband's clearance, telling ABC News earlier this month, "The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance. Zero."
The White House said that it does not comment on security clearances.