National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden quipped in a tweet Monday that he won government security clearance "faster than half of this White House."
Snowden, an NSA contractor who leaked thousands of documents exposing the agency's global electronic eavesdropping, made the comment in a reply to a tweet by journalist Barton Gellman. Gellman, who has written extensively on the government, privacy and security, noted that it's "highly unusual" for so many in the Trump administration to be still lacking permanent clearance after this much time. Yet they still have access to sensitive information.
The issue was raised dramatically last week when news emerged that security clearance for White House staff secretary Rob Porter was held up by accusations of domestic violence from both of his ex-wives. Porter quit his White House job last Wednesday. He insists the accusations are unfounded.
The Washington Post reported last week that "dozens" of White House staffers are still waiting for permanent security clearances. Among those is Donald Trump's son-law-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner, a top-level adviser to the president, is also apparently a person of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Kremlin interference in the U.S. presidential election. He also remains an investor in the Kushner family real estate empire, which has international holdings and investors. In addition, he has amended his financial disclosure forms several times to add information that he had previously omitted.
It's particularly unusual for someone at Kushner's level in the White House, who should be on a fast track, to wait more than three months for the permanent security clearance he needs, a source told the Post. "That just tells me that somebody's uncomfortable with the information that they have in his background," another source explained to the newspaper.
But a lawyer quoted by the Post, Mark Zaid, who represents government workers going through the process, said it's not necessarily sinister that so many still lack permanent security clearance. He believes that investigations may be slowed by the fact that more people than usual have never before had clearance, and they also may have have complicated financial holdings with international connections. Zaid wrote the same to Gellman in a tweet.
Democrats have demanded "credible oversight" of the security clearance process. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, complained in a letter last week to the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), that Democrats have been blocked from important information.