Senators question White House on security clearances to Flynn, Trump adviser Gorka

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during the daily news briefing at the White House before his dismissal.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during the daily news briefing at the White House before his dismissal. AP

Four Democratic senators have charged in a series of letters that the appointment of Michael Flynn as Donald Trump’s national security adviser “might have jeopardized national security” and demanded information on why seemingly obvious red flags were overlooked in his vetting for the position.

The senators also questioned the granting of a top-secret security clearance to Sebastian Gorka, a former editor at the Breitbart website who’s now a Trump senior adviser. The senators accused Gorka of failing to note on his U.S. citizenship application that he’d belonged to a neo-Nazi organization in his native Hungary.

“Portions of the White House’s security clearance process have experienced breakdowns since the beginning of the new administration,” the four senators, all members of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote in the letters, which were addressed to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, FBI director James Comey and Marcia Lee Kelly, the director of management and administration at the White House. The letters were dated March 30 and made available to McClatchy.

The interest in how the Trump administration vetted its top advisers adds another layer to Congress’ investigations into a White House now enmeshed in at least three probes into whether Trump campaign advisers colluded with Russia to influence the results of last year’s election.

Flynn has offered to testify in those investigations if he is granted immunity from prosecution, but none of the entities investigating that meddling – the House and Senate intelligence committees and the FBI – has indicated an interest in taking him up on the offer.

A House Intelligence Committee spokesman said the subject of immunity did not come up in what he called “a preliminary discussion” with Flynn’s lawyer. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that while Flynn’s suggestion of immunity was “a grave and momentous step” for a former national security adviser, granting it is likely premature in an investigation that “grows in severity and magnitude by the day.”

Schiff noted, for example, that the House committee still has not received information from the FBI on whether Flynn had declared in his background check application that he had acted as a paid agent for Turkey last year, a declaration he belatedly made to the Justice Department March 8, more than three weeks after he’d resigned as Trump’s national security adviser.

The four senators, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Margaret Hassan of New Hampshire, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jon Tester of Montana, expressed similar frustration at what they say is a lack of information to their questions about the vetting of top Trump officials. A previous letter sent in early March to the White House requesting details on Flynn’s security clearance process has gone unanswered.

The new letter asks for a response by April 14 and asserts that “there is compelling evidence to support that – based on recent reports – his serving as the national security adviser might have jeopardized White House decisions about our national security.”

The senators said that Flynn apparently failed to report to the Pentagon as required that he received more than $30,000 from Russian state broadcaster Russia Today in 2015 or that he’d served as a paid agent for Turkey in 2016, when he was serving as a senior Trump campaign adviser.

“When taken together,” the letter said, “they make it exceedingly clear that Mr. Flynn’s re-investigation and adjudication (of his security clearance) should have uncovered his ineligibility to serve as the president’s senior advisor on national security issues.”

After his firing Feb. 13, the Defense Intelligence Agency suspended Flynn’s security clearance. It “remains suspended pending review. Nothing has changed,” a DIA spokesman, James Kudla, said Friday.

As for Gorka, the senators wrote that the “deputy assistant to the president may have concealed his membership in the far-right Hungarian anti-Semitic organization known as Vitezi Rend on his naturalization application. Such failure to disclose this during the course of one’s naturalization proceedings would be unlawful.”

They also noted a “misdemeanor charge Gorka faced for bringing a 9mm pistol through a TSA checkpoint at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.”

“These reports call into question Dr. Gorka’s suitability to hold a Top-Secret security clearance to serve as a senior advisor to the President,” the letters assert, though in a separate list of questions the senators asked “Does Dr. Gorka hold a security clearance? If so, what level clearance eligibility does Dr. Gorka have?”

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which rules on citizenship applications, referred questions to the White House, which responded with a link to a report in an online publication, Tablet, in which Gorka denied being a member of the Vitezi Rend.

The letter also asks about the vetting of six “White House officials who were dismissed during a pre-investigation.”

“Are there any White House officials currently employed who have derogatory and/or disqualifying information in their background investigation, yet who the White House still deems eligible to hold a security clearance?” the letters ask.

The senators also ask if there are any current White House officials “who were determined to be ineligible for a security clearance or have not received an eligibility determination but for whom a senior Administration official, an individual designated by the President, or the President overruled that determination or allowed access to classified information?”

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews