Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., is one of the lawmakers who wrote to Attorney General William Barr seeking more information.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., is one of the lawmakers who wrote to Attorney General William Barr seeking more information. Cliff Owen/AP

House Democrats Ramp Up Pressure on White House Security Clearances

Justice Department is asked to investigate whether Trump interfered with Kushner’s case.

Newly empowered congressional Democrats are focusing their oversight powers on the Trump White House’s handling of the security clearance process, seeking to bring in the Justice Department to consider possible criminal violations.

Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Don Beyer, D-Va., on Tuesday wrote to Attorney General William Barr in reaction to a New York Times report last week suggesting that President Trump had instructed then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to overrule the intelligence community recommendation against a full clearance for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Calling themselves “deeply concerned” by the report, the Democrats wrote, “Taken together with previous reports that Mr. Kushner omitted contacts with more than one hundred foreign persons on his clearance forms–including the Russian ambassador–we request that the Department of Justice open an immediate investigation to determine if Mr. Kushner is criminally liable for his false statements.”

The Trump inner circle has denied the assertion that Trump interfered. “I wouldn’t do it,” Trump told the Times in January. “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.”

Similarly, his daughter Ivanka, who is married to Kushner and who works at the White House, told ABC’s “The View” that “the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.”

Last Friday, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that “the president has the absolute right to do what was described.”

Lieu and Beyer told Barr they believe such statements are “apparently lies,” and warned that foreign interests could “manipulate” Kushner, who has a wide portfolio in Middle East policy as well as investments and ownership of prominent properties.

“Lying to the public, though disgraceful and unethical, is not ispo facto a criminal act,” the two said. “Lying on one’s SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions, however, is a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code §1001 punishable by up to five years in prison.” They noted reports that Kushner had to “submit at least three separate addenda detailing over 100 omissions, including the infamous June 2016 meeting he attended in Trump Tower where Russian agents offered 'dirt' on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. He also failed to report his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak and the head of Russian-owned bank Vnesheconombank,” the letter said.

“Ultimately, the president and his son-in-law have made a mockery of the security clearance process,” the House members wrote. “Their actions put U.S. national security at risk and offend the thousands of dedicated career officials who both grant and receive clearances the correct way. As attorney general, your loyalty is to the United States, not Mr. Kushner or even the president.”

The White House, meanwhile, has been working with House members on broader security clearance issues, but conflict persists.

On Tuesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, continued his months-old bid to extract documents on security clearance decisions from the White House. “There is a key difference between a president who exercises his authority under the Constitution and a president who overrules career experts and his top advisers to benefit his family members and then conceals his actions from the American people,” Cummings said in a statement. “The White House’s argument defies the constitutional separation of powers, decades of precedent before this committee, and just plain common-sense. The White House security clearance system is broken, and it needs both congressional oversight and legislative reform.”

White House Counsel to the President Pat Cipollone wrote to Cummings on Monday saying the House “committee has failed to point to any authority establishing a legitimate legislative purpose for the committee's unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive demands, including the demand to examine the entire investigative files of numerous individuals whom the president has chosen as his senior advisers.”

And Trump, responding on Tuesday to the much broader document demand received on Monday from House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seeking documents involving 81 executive branch entities, told reporters, “It's a disgrace to our country. I'm not surprised that it's happening. Basically, they've started the campaign. So the campaign begins.”