How serious is presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s failure to mention his meetings with top-level Russian officials on a security clearance questionnaire? Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) are looking for the answer.
The two local representatives are among five House Democrats calling for the temporary suspension of Kushner’s top-secret security clearance. This comes after The New York Times reported that Kushner did not report meetings he had last year with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the head of a Russian Bank on a background check form he needed for top- security clearance.
In an interview with WJW this week, Raskin said that omitting information or making a false statement on a security clearance questionnaire is a federal offense that can carries up to five years in prison.
“There’s no son-in-law exception to the law,” he said. “I’m not calling for criminal prosecution because there might be a perfectly good explanation for why he withheld information about his contacts with the Russians. But at the very least we must suspend his security clearance until there is a disclosure made and clears this up.”
Since entering the House in January, Raskin has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. He voted for legislation aimed at investigating conflicts of interest of Trump and his advisers. On Feb. 13, he signed a letter with 16 other House members asking Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to investigate then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia. Flynn resigned later that day.
Raskin, Beyer and Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent their letter on April 13 to FBI director James Comey and director of the National Background Investigations Bureau Charles Phalen.
They pointed out that Flynn was forced to resign for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Kislyak, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from campaign-related issues after deceiving the Senate Judiciary Committee about his communication with the Russian ambassador. Kushner, they assert, may be following a similar path.
“Given the severity of the allegations and still unanswered questions about this administration’s recently uncovered covert dealings with Russian government and intelligence officials, we are requesting that Mr. Kushner’s interim top-secret security clearance be suspended pending a review of Mr. Kushner’s compliance with the laws and regulation governing security clearances,” the letter stated.
Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told The Times that Kushner submitted his form prematurely and planned to discuss his contact with Russian officials when the FBI interviewed him as part of the bureau’s investigation into ties between the White House and the Kremlin.
That was not enough to satisfy Raskin.
“It is now established with 100 percent certainty that Kushner had contacts with Russia and 100 percent that he had a legal obligation to disclose,” he said. “There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. Maybe he actually did [have] a page that somehow got deleted or dropped off. Maybe someone in the government told him he didn’t need to worry about Russian contacts. We don’t know.”
In an interview with MSNBC on Saturday, Lieu took a harder line.
“Jared Kushner intentionally omitted his various contacts, and he knew these contacts were important because of the whole Russia scandal that has been developing,” he said. “So he lied. And he needs to have his security clearance revoked.”
Does Raskin agree with Lieu?
“It depends on what you mean by intentionally,” he said. “[Kushner] certainly submitted his application without that information, which he was perfectly well aware of. Whether that was some kind of oversight or a deliberate attempt to suppress that information, we just don’t know the answer.”
Beyer, who initiated the letter, said he is not “in the habit of calling people liars,” but said it is “disconcerting” that Kushner would not report foreign contacts. The Virginia congressman said he remembers filling out the same form in 2008 when he was working on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.
“I always kept very careful records of the people I was with overseas,” he said.
Beyer said the U.S. government is holding Kushner to a different standard than any other member of a presidential administration, who is expected to report foreign contacts or gifts.
“My deep hope would be that we don’t look the other way while members of the president’s family ignore, intentionally or unintentionally, rules about security clearances,” he said.
Raskin echoed that sentiment.
“If we don’t want to have security clearance for the president’s appointees, we should just change the law,” he said. “If the president can have whoever he wants in there regardless of foreign involvement and contacts, then that’s a change Congress should make. But as long as we have this law, it should be enforced.”