Two top Democratic congressman said Sunday that President Donald Trump's reported demand that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be given a security clearance despite concerns raised by intelligence officials amounted to an "abuse of power" and was "inappropriate."
"The president does have a right to give anyone a security clearance," Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But what I think is inappropriate is, these security clearances should be given after the review of the national security officials."
"The fact that he, in effect, chooses to give a family member, overriding the recommendations of the community, bothers me a great deal," Warner continued.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said on ABC's "This Week" that he thinks president's move "was an abuse of power.
"Look, the president has the right to do a lot of things, but he can abuse his power in doing that," Nadler said. "Members of Congress have the right to vote for or against the bill. But if they do so because someone paid them $50,000 to do so, that’s an abuse of power. It’s also a crime. So, you can do things that are within your power that are abuses of power and that are crimes."
Republicans pushed back, however, saying Trump has the authority to overrule the intelligence officials' concerns, and the issue isn't worrisome to them.
"I think the president looked at the concerns, and the president says those weren't concerns to him, so he could have him around," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told ABC's "This Week." "If we went through every person who had this authority before, I’ll — I’ll guarantee you other people’s had concerns raised with them. The president gets to make that decision. They give you the pluses and the minuses, whatever the concerns are, the president made the choice, and he's doing a good job at it."
The New York Times, citing four people briefed on the matter, reported Thursday that Trump ordered then-White House chief of staff John Kelly to give Kushner, a senior adviser, a top-secret security clearance in May 2018. At the time, Kelly and then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn authored memos about the incident, the newspaper reported. In his memo, McGahn laid out concerns and noted that he recommended against giving Kushner a clearance.
NBC News reported last month that, according to two sources familiar with the matter, Kushner's application for a top-secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him, but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance.
Trump told The New York Times in January that he had no role in his son-in-law getting the clearance. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said that when the clearance was granted last year, Kushner's application went through the standard process, the newspaper reported. Lowell did not comment to NBC News for its January report.
Warner said Sunday that he wants to see "further explanation" from the White House on why Trump overruled the recommendations.
"Again, you have Mr. Kushner, who has at least tangentially been touched by a number of the investigations," he said. "He's clearly got a very strong relationship with the leadership in Saudi Arabia. And the whole idea that the president arbitrarily picks which family members to get security clearances, overriding the advice of the intelligence community — but we shouldn't be surprised at that. This president has consistently been willing to override the advice of the intelligence community."
Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said on "Fox News Sunday" that he didn't "have any concerns" about Kushner's clearance or think the president's son-in-law was a security risk.
"I deal with Jared all the time on the Middle East peace process in a number of other issues," Bolton said. "I trust him. I have no idea what the story is on the security clearance — it's not something that falls within my area of responsibility. But if asked, do I trust Jared Kushner? The answer is yes."