Dem-led House panel launches new probe into Trump administration security clearances

The Democrat-led House Oversight Committee has launched a new probe into alleged “grave” breaches of national security in the security clearance process with the White House and Trump transition team, in the panel's latest move to ramp up Trump-focused investigations.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., announced the plans to launch an “in-depth” investigation of the process, seeking information about reports of security clearance issues involving multiple current and former Trump administration officials.

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“The goals of this investigation are to determine why the White House and Transition Team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation’s most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices,” Cummings said in a statement Wednesday.

The committee is seeking information on clearance issues involving a number of current and former Trump administration officials—specifically, former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, National Security Adviser John Bolton, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, among others.

Flynn was forced to resign from his post after misleading Vice President Pence about his communications with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn allegedly lied to federal investigators about those communications and was charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with making false statements. Flynn also was accused of violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), regarding his work for Turkey.

McFarland, a former Fox News contributor, was referenced in court papers as an unnamed Trump transition team member who spoke with Flynn in 2016 about what, if anything, to say about sanctions that had just been imposed on Russia by the Obama administration in response to election meddling. McFarland, after leaving the White House, was under consideration to be the ambassador of Singapore, but withdrew her nomination amid criticism from the left.

Meanwhile, Rob Porter was accused last year of physically abusing both of his ex-wives, sparking an overhaul of the security clearance process led by former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who penned a memo stating that “going forward, all [background investigations] of potential commissioned officers should be flagged for the FBI at the outset and then hand-delivered to the White House counsel personally upon completion.”

Kelly also required the FBI official who delivered the files to “verbally brief the White House counsel on any information in those files they deem to be significantly derogatory.”

As part of that investigation, Kushner’s interim security clearance was downgraded amid new rules that halted access to top-secret information for anyone whose applications had been pending. Kushner ultimately obtained a full security clearance.

Cummings, in his statement, cited Kelly, who said last year there are “major ‘shortcomings’ with the White House’s security clearance process.”

“He warned that the White House ‘should –and in the future, must –do better,’ and he stated that ‘now is the time to take a hard look at the way the White House processes clearance requests,’” Cummings said Wednesday. “I agree.”

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Aside from security clearance issues surrounding these current and former officials, the president himself has questioned clearances for Obama-era officials. In August, Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, claiming he had been “leveraging” his clearance to make “wild outbursts” and claims against the Trump administration in the media.

Cummings’ announcement of a security clearance probe is the latest example of the committee ramping up Trump-focused investigations.

The committee was slated to receive public testimony from longtime Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen on Feb. 7, but Cohen’s attorney and adviser Lanny Davis said Wednesday that his appearance before the committee would be “postponed” citing “threats against his family from President Trump” and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Russia, as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and also pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

The committee is the House’s main investigative panel. Several freshmen lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have landed spots on the panel.

Republicans on the committee said the latest security clearance probe was not floated by GOP members ahead of its announcement.

“We are reviewing the Chairman’s letters. Chairman Cummings did not consult Republicans before initiating this wide-ranging investigation," a minority staff committee aide told Fox News. "We hope the Chairman is not starting another partisan inquiry designed to embarrass the White House instead of pursuing legitimate oversight.”

The committee is hardly the only panel probing the Trump administration.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., announced earlier this month that he would dissolve the panel’s subcommittee on terrorism and re-direct those resources to a subcommittee dedicated to investigations related to the president and his relationships and communications with foreign officials, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Also, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced that his committee would continue with their investigation into potential Trump-Russia collusion. Last week, Schiff said that he could subpoena notes or testimony from the interpreter in several meetings between Trump and Putin—a move that would dramatically escalate the investigation and trigger a major confrontation between the executive and legislative branches concerning discussions with foreign leaders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.