Strengthening our national security starts with securing our nation’s secrets
Opinion Editorial by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi
Some pundits and commentators are treating objections to the Trump administration’s haphazard approach to national security vetting as a game of political “gotcha.” However, recent actions by a key House committee show that members of Congress think the subject is serious – and want the problem resolved.
The fact that these national security clearances have even become an issue is notable. Previous administrations of both parties have carried out the same vetting procedures without issue, but the new administration has failed to follow in their footsteps. In recent months, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have all admitted that they failed to disclose significant information about foreign contacts in their applications for security clearances.
To make matters worse, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 – an account that contradicts both Sessions’ sworn testimony before Congress and his later, written corrections.
Last month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously passed a measure I introduced, which ordered more transparency around White House security clearance procedures. This legislation requires the National Background Investigations Bureau to report to Congress on the process for conducting and adjudicating security clearance requests for the Executive Office of the President.
This measure put all members of the Oversight Committee on the record in support of our national security and the belief that access to our nation’s secrets should demand the highest levels of scrutiny. We must have the strictest adherence to security procedures to protect against compromise by hostile foreign powers.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the Trump administration’s flouting of national security procedures surrounds Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner’s application for a security clearance. Over the past few months, we have learned that Mr. Kushner failed to disclose his participation in a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer and her associates, including a former Soviet intelligence officer and an individual linked to a federal money laundering investigation. This is just one of the foreign contacts Mr. Kushner failed to disclose out of the more than one hundred he reportedly omitted from his SF-86 security clearance application.
Just days later, we learned that Attorney General Sessions discussed campaign matters with the Russian Ambassador in 2016, despite Sessions’ sworn denial before a Senate panel and his later correction to that testimony. As a result, I have called on Attorney General Sessions to immediately inform Congress of the full and complete nature of his contacts with Russian agents. If these allegations are true as reported, the attorney general is not fit to perform his duties as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
Following well-established national security screening procedures and accurately informing Congress about them is not a joke or a political game. It is essential to guaranteeing that our national secrets are protected and to preventing possible blackmailing of key administration officials. When a foreign adversary knows that an American official has deceived or withheld vital information from our government, it creates a fundamental counterintelligence vulnerability that can render that official irreparably compromised.
When senior administration officials, whether serving as attorney general, national security advisor, or as a senior advisor to the president, have been potentially compromised by hostile powers, it is vital that Democrats and Republicans come together to address any national security vulnerabilities that have been created and guarantee they will not be repeated. With its unanimous approval of my legislation, the House Oversight Committee is starting to do that job.