In late January, the New York Times asked Donald Trump if he ever overruled national security officials’ concerns to give security clearances. The president insisted he didn’t and wouldn’t do that, adding that he was “never involved” in the process.
It now appears Trump was lying. When U.S. officials balked at giving Jared Kushner a security clearance, the president ordered John Kelly, the White House chief of staff at the time, to help Trump’s son-in-law anyway, which led Kelly to write a contemporaneous memo on what transpired.
According to a new CNN report, the president also “pressured his then-chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance against their recommendations.”
Not surprisingly, the House Oversight Committee has requested information from the White House about possible abuses. Yesterday White House Counsel Pat Cipollone balked, writing in a letter that the committee’s request for the information was “without legal support, clearly premature, and suggests a breach of the constitutionally required accommodation process.”
Yesterday, Trump himself weighed in on the subject, arguing that his team was simply following the precedent set by his predecessor.
“President Obama, from what they tell me, was under a similar kind of a thing – didn’t give one letter. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t give one letter of the request. Many requests were made; they didn’t give a letter.”
At face value, that might seem rather compelling. If Congress made document requests to the Obama White House, and the Democratic officials refused to comply, it’s hard to blame the Republican White House for adopting the same posture.
The trouble, however, is that Trump was lying again.
The New York Times fact-checked the president’s latest claim, and found that the Obama White House provided Congress with nearly 2 million documents in response to lawmakers’ inquiries about assorted controversies.
In other words, Trump’s excuse for refusing to comply with a congressional request is the opposite of reality.
Putting these relevant details aside, I continue to think the story about the White House’s security clearances leads to four lines of inquiry: (1) why did Trump intervene; (2) why did Trump lie about intervening; (3) why did U.S. security agencies and officials balk at clearances for those in the president’s inner circle; and (4) why are we hearing about all of this now.
The argument from Trump World has been that the president enjoys the “absolute authority” to extend security clearances to whomever he pleases. That’s not a bad argument, but it doesn’t explain the need for such deception, and it doesn’t resolve why some in Trump’s orbit couldn’t earn clearances on the merits.