Donald Trump Doesn’t Have Security Clearance: Here’s Why
When the average American wants to get a job with the federal government, they need to get a security clearance in order to access classified information. Security clearances grant individuals access to classified information and government secrets, or access to restricted areas after a thorough background check. But as it turns out, the president of the United States doesn’t actually need security clearance. So Donald Trump probably doesn’t have it.
Read on to get all the details on why Donald Trump doesn’t need a security clearance. And find out why Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, doesn’t have a permanent security clearance, either.
Presidents don’t hold a security clearance
It sounds surprising that Donald Trump doesn’t have a security clearance. But as Clearance Jobs reports, “The president of the United States is not subject to a security screening and does not hold a security clearance. Once elected, only time and inclination separate a new president from opening the vaults and knowing the truth about everything.” The publication adds that classification policy “largely stems from executive orders.” The president, therefore, makes the rules for classification. He’s also the authority on the treatment of classified material.
“Presidents, by virtue of their position, are practically incapable of violating clearance law,” Clearance Jobs notes. So, the publication adds, “Election to the nation’s highest office is the ultimate conferral of trust upon an American citizen by the body politic.” And the president’s total access to America’s secrets functions as an important check on the power of the military and the secrecy apparatus.
Next: Donald Trump can access all government secrets, even without clearance.
Donald Trump has access to everything, even though he doesn’t have security clearance
Many people find it surprising. But the president just doesn’t have a security clearance in the sense that other government employees do. That means that Donald Trump hasn’t had to undergo the extensive background checks or polygraph tests. And he hasn’t undergone the other screening measures that the typical person would have to undertake when applying for a job with the federal government.
But even though he doesn’t have a formal security clearance, Donald Trump can still access anything he wants to see. The average American might have a few questions about Trump’s past behavior or the lawsuits against him. But the government doesn’t need answers to those questions to grant the president access to all the nation’s secrets.
Next: Here’s what Donald Trump would have to do if he needed to apply for clearance.
What’s required to get security clearance?
If Donald Trump did need to go through the formal process of getting a security clearance, what would he have to do? He’d have to fill out an exhaustive form called an SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions. That form enables an individual to apply for a security clearance: Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret. Then, Trump would have to undergo an extensive background check. That background check would investigate his personal and professional history. The FBI would also review his criminal history, financial records, and foreign contacts.
The State Department reports that to get a security clearance, an individual has to have a history that indicates “loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion.” To get a security clearance, an individual also has to demonstrate “a willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information.”
Next: The president isn’t the only member of the Trump White House without a permanent security clearance.
Jared Kushner doesn’t yet have a permanent security clearance
Newsweek reports that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, doesn’t yet have a permanent security clearance. Kushner reportedly hasn’t passed the comprehensive background check required of anyone seeking a permanent security clearance. So he’s still working as Trump’s senior adviser under an interim security clearance. According to Newsweek, investigators “continue to assess his trustworthiness and analyze his web of active foreign investments.”
A major complication in the process? When Kushner filled out his original paperwork, he reportedly “omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times.” According to Newsweek, investigators also have to consider Kushner’s “complicated business interests.” In fact, Kushner repeatedly revised his financial disclosure forms. And Newsweek adds that experts characterize “the sheer volume of his ongoing ties to foreign investors” as “enough to deny anyone access to classified information.”
Next: The government hasn’t denied Kushner a permanent clearance.
But Kushner’s security clearance hasn’t been denied
Newsweek notes that some people think the real question about Kushner’s security clearance is why it hasn’t been denied. Sources tell the publication that “nobody has the moxie to tell the president his son-in-law can’t be working in the White House.” Some even argue that the government should suspend Kushner’s interim security clearance. At least until investigators determine whether his failures to disclose information were intentional.
To decide whether or not to give someone a security clearance, investigators from the FBI look through the SF-86 form. They then assess whether the person applying can be trusted with the nation’s secrets. To do that, they take into account the person’s employment history, relationships, foreign entanglements, and business deals. They also review revisions and mistakes. (Such as Kushner’s updates to add Russian contacts.)
Next: Kushner’s current situation is certainly unusual.
Under a different president, Kushner wouldn’t have access to classified information
Newsweek reports that under normal circumstances, Jared Kushner wouldn’t be allowed to work in the White House for a year without a security clearance. Under a more typical administration, a person who couldn’t pass the investigation just wouldn’t have access to classified information. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the way the situation has played out in the Trump White House.
Kushner can’t do his job without classified information — information it seems he’s getting even without a security clearance. His interim security clearance grants him access to sensitive materials about foreign relations. But as Newsweek explains, “In the midst of his clearance controversy, Kushner’s role in the White House has been diminished.”
Next: The government’s process for granting interim clearances has attracted this criticism.
The government has a ‘low threshold’ for granting an interim security clearance
NBC recently reported that the FBI has a “low threshold” for granting interim security clearances, the type that Jared Kushner currently has. That threshold is lax enough that “it is possible for people who have been compromised or who have criminal backgrounds to slip through the cracks of the preliminary background investigation and obtain access to sensitive national security-related information.”
In fact, 165 defense contractors had their security clearances revoked last year. The reason why? Further investigation revealed links from the security clearance recipients to what NBC characterizes as “problematic or illicit activity.” That includes “questionable financial transactions, influence by foreign governments, and even felonies like pedophilia.”
Next: Some say Donald Trump would have trouble getting a security clearance if he applied.
Some people say Donald Trump wouldn’t get a security clearance if he had to apply
Colbert I. King, a former investigator for the U.S. Civil Service Commission, posits in a piece for The Washington Post, “If Donald Trump were an off-the-street federal job applicant, he most likely would not be granted a security clearance.” King says that’s not because of specific things in Trump’s past, but simply because of things we don’t know about him.
“Life histories tell a lot, and a lot must be known about people entrusted with our national security,” King writes. “This is where deciding whether Trump is an acceptable security risk hits a wall. There is so much about him and his conduct, past and present, that is unknown.” Questions abound about Trump’s ties with Russia and his foreign business relationships. Plus, Trump’s record of not providing 100% truthful answers — though it didn’t disqualify him from the presidency — might reduce his chances of getting a security clearance.
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