Sources suggested Trump was looking into the security clearances for his children
Democrats seized on the issue, launching accusations of nepotism
President-elect Donald Trump denied Wednesday he was attempting to get “top level security clearance” for his adult children, despite multiple reports that such a request had been made by his transition team.
“I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children. This was a typically false news story,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning.
Trump’s tweet comes after growing controversy over his reported interest in getting security clearance for his children – Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner.
A source with knowledge of the situation told CNN that Kushner could likely end up with a top national security clearance as a key adviser to his father-in-law, a position he is expected to take. The source said it is likely, but has not happened yet.
Regarding security clearance for the other children, a transition source told CNN that an inquiry had been made, but that it had not yet led to any action.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller, however, also denied Wednesday that an official request had been sent. “The President-elect has not requested security clearance for any family members and no paperwork has been submitted to this effect. Any reporting otherwise is inaccurate.”
Trump’s adult children played key advisory roles during the presidential campaign, and it is not yet clear what positions they’ll hold once their father takes office. The Trumps have suggested that the children will take control of the family business empire in a sort of “blind trust” while their father serves as president, but critics have countered that having family members running such a trust would do little to resolve major potential conflicts of interest.
Sean Bigley, a federal security clearance attorney and former background investigator for the Office of Personnel Management, told CNN on Tuesday security clearance is tied to a position, not a person. As a result, clearance can’t be granted without a specific position in mind. Clearance for Trump’s children would be determined by what, if any, administrative positions they take – something Kushner appears most likely to do.
Bigley pointed out that the President does have the authority to create a new position, such as a special adviser, that would require access to classified material. But the person named to that post would still undergo a security clearance review. Under such circumstances, interim clearance can be granted in as little as 14 days.
Democrats were quick to seize on the reports of Trump’s interest in getting security clearance for his children, expressing concerns and hurling accusations of nepotism.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, issued a statement rebuking Trump for the alleged request.
“The President-elect’s request of top secret security clearances for his children must be reconsidered,” he said in a statement. “Granting security clearances to people whose part-time interest in our federal government is rooted in nepotism and the numerous conflicts of interest created by their continuing to run private corporations could chill information sharing with private industry and international partners is not in the best interest of our nation. Our nation’s top secrets should not be carelessly or casually shared with those without a national security need-to-know.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote a letter to new White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asking for an explanation of the reported request and expressing his concerns.
“There is a process by which a position within the executive branch may be designated as a national security position if its responsibilities and assignments require eligibility for access to classified information. It does not appear that Mr. Trump intends to hire his children into such positions. If he does, however, that would raise significant concerns given their direct involvement in his business interests,” Cummings said.
Cummings later Wednesday penned a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the matter, asking him to provide a list of people who are being considered for security clearances.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Ryan Browne and Tal Kopan contributed to this report.