The top Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are demanding to know why the panel's Democratic leadership allegedly leaked key documents concerning Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances to the media, without bothering to keep Republicans on the committee in the loop and while continuing to press the White House to provide the same documents.
In a letter sent Monday to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking members Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan raised the alarm over a Mar. 8, 2019 article in Axios, in which reporter Alexi McCammond wrote that a "senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents" told the outlet that "the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide."
McCammond went on to write that Axios had "obtained" one of those documents, which "provides some details about why Kushner's security clearance was changed to 'interim' in September 2017. One document quoted by Axios read: "Per conversation with WH counsel the clearance was changed to interim Top Secret until we can confirm that the DOJ or someone else actually granted a final clearance. This action was taken out of an abundance of caution because the background investigation has not been completed."
Another document, dated Feb. 23, 2018, read simply: "Clearance downgraded to Interim Secret per COS direction" — then-chief of staff John Kelly, according to Axios.
The article raised several questions for Jordan, R-Ohio, and Meadows, R-N.C., especially given the oversight panel's repeated requests to the White House, from January through February, for documents pertaining to the security clearance process. Earlier this month, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a letter to Cummings rejecting the committee's request for documents as "extraordinarily intrusive," while asserting that Cummings has rejected reasonable compromises.
"We first learned about these documents from Axios’s reporting," Meadows and Jordan wrote to Cummings. "However, according to the article, the Committee had been in possession of the documents since early February. The article quoted a 'senior Democratic aide' as characterizing the documents as 'part of the puzzle that we would be asking for.' Axios reported that it had even obtained access to at least one of these documents."
The Republicans continued: "Axios’s reporting, if accurate, is concerning for two reasons. First, if you already possessed in early February the documents that you 'would be asking for' from the White House, there would be no legitimate oversight basis to renew your request that the White House produce these documents to the Committee on February 11, 2019.
"Second, and most troubling, the Axios article—if accurate—suggests a departure from the Committee’s historical practice of sharing documents that will be made publicly available," the GOP representatives added. "The Axios article suggests the reporter 'obtained' a document from a larger group of documents provided to the Committee. If accurate, the story seems to suggest that you made these documents available to the press. We have yet to receive this same courtesy."
"These actions are not indicative of the objective, fact-based oversight you promised."
By not sharing documents with Republicans on the committee, Meadows and Jordan wrote, Cummings had deprived the panel's GOP minority of the "opportunity to participate in and be aware of the Committee’s work."
"Without access to these documents, we cannot determine whether the information in the Axios story is cherry-picked, inaccurate, or out of context," they wrote. "In addition, the disclosure of documents to the press so early in an investigation undercuts the sincerity of the Committee’s investigation. By providing documents to the media before the Committee issues any reports or holds any hearings, one may conclude that the Committee is seeking documents for future public disclosure to harass and embarrass the President and his senior advisors."
Meadows and Jordan charged that "this conduct seems to be part of a larger trend," noting that "as the star witness of your first big hearing, you invited Michael Cohen, a convicted liar who then lied to the Committee several times under oath."
They concluded with a demand for the documents, and an admonition: "These actions are not indicative of the objective, fact-based oversight you promised."
Late last month, a spokesman for Kushner's attorney told Fox News that President Trump's son-in-law received a top-secret security clearance through "the regular process with no pressure from anyone," after The New York Times reported that Trump "ordered" then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant the clearance against the advice of then-White House Counsel Don McGhan.
Fox News reported in May 2018 that Kushner had obtained a full security clearance. He had been working at the White House with an interim security clearance for the better part of a year, through late February 2018. That month, Kushner's interim clearance was downgraded from "interim top secret" to "interim secret" after Kelly set a Feb. 23, 2018, deadline for halting access to top-secret information for those whose applications have been pending since June 1, 2017, or earlier.
The Times report, which cited "four people briefed on the matter," said that Trump told Kelly to grant Kushner a top-secret clearance the day after the White House Counsel's Office recommended that he not be given one. The report claimed that Kelly was so disturbed by Trump's command that he wrote an internal memo stating that he had been "ordered" to give Kushner the clearance.
Fox News' Brooke Singman and Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.