Photo via Max Goldberg

Trump denies seeking top security clearance for his children

Doing so may actually be illegal.


David Gilmour


Published Nov 16, 2016   Updated Feb 28, 2020, 8:34 pm CST

On Monday evening CBS News ran a story claiming that President-elect Donald Trump was seeking the highest levels of security clearance for a number of his family members.

Access, should Trump’s team find a way to make it possible, would be extended to his three adult children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., as well as his political advisor son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Thousands read the story and, as it continued to gather momentum, it was picked up by other big media organizations, including CNN.

The original report was refuted by Trump’s team, but it resurfaced on Tuesday evening after NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported that Trump has sought top security clearance for Kushner.

Following this report, however, Trump himself refuted the news as “fake” and denied requesting “top security clearance” for his relatives.

Ongoing speculation about the curious role that the Trump children have played in the transition team likely fed the success and sensationalism of the story, but legal checks and balances would prevent such a move. To give his family members access to the government’s secrets would not only be an extraordinarily corrupt move in the direction of nepotism, it may also be illegal.

First of all, it’s against the law for a president to hire relatives and family members. The conflict of interest is obvious, and an anti-nepotism law crafted up in 1967, which forbids presidents from hiring family members for cabinet positions or other government jobs, may make it impossible.

As for security clearance, it’s not some favor or gift bestowed by a benevolent president on whomever he or she wishes. It’s a functional and practical apparatus that is also bound up in law and bureaucratic checks.

Speaking with the Daily Beast, lawyer Bradley Moss explained, “You can’t have your kids being advisers. It has to be properly qualified officials who are experts in the fields.”

Trump’s children have not openly expressed interest in formal roles within his administration. In fact, in recent interviews they have all expressed that they will maintain the family businesses while their father is in office. They have, however, indicated that they plan to serve as informal, unpaid advisors, a position that puts them outside the anti-nepotism law. Such a roll would not qualify them for security clearance, however.

“Even if they came in as unpaid advisers,” he continued, “there’s no such thing as an informal government position that allows you to be sponsored for access. … There’s no exception. There’s no loopholes.”

The situation for Kushner, who is on Trump’s transition team, may be different because the position is temporary and may not be covered under the anti-nepotism law. 

And hey, if you believe Trump and his team more than anonymously sourced reports from major media outlets, this is all just a fake story anyway.

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*First Published: Nov 16, 2016, 1:14 pm CST