Security Clearances for Candidates for President

If you can’t trust someone, what’s the point of electing him or her President?

As you may have heard or read in recent news coverage, there’s a question as to whether or not the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, should have a security clearance. The issue isn’t so much that he doesn’t qualify. It’s that the person who ordered him to be given one, despite Mr. Kushner’s vulnerabilities to influence, wouldn’t himself qualify for a security clearance. And that person is President Donald Trump.

Does anyone, other than the most diehard Trump supporters, think that Mr. Trump’s domestic shenanigans and business entanglements with foreign banks and governments shouldn’t prevent him from seeing our nation’s most secret information?

If it wasn’t Donald J. Trump we were talking about, would he or she qualify for our highest level security clearance? And, if not, what difference should it make that it’s actually Donald J. Trump? Does he somehow deserve a pass at the expense of our national security?

If a security clearance was necessary to be President – as it obviously should be – odds are, the Mueller, other Treasury Department and Congressional investigations would have never happened. In fact, had candidate Trump been required to qualify for a security clearance as a condition for his running, he never would have run for President in the first place.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Good looking people, but that doesn’t make them qualified to know our nation’s secrets.

Members of the President’s staff are required to have high level security clearances to learn our nation’s secrets. But the President him or herself? All the President needs is to be elected. It’s absolutely perverse and nonsensical. His appointments need clearances, but not the person appointing them. The heads of the Department of Defense, CIA, NSA and FBI need security clearances, but not the person to whom they answer. All the President needs is to be elected and, if there is one thing we’ve learned recently, it’s that being elected is no indication whatsoever of a person’s qualifications for access to our nation’s most sensitive information.

Likewise for members of Congress to whom such secrets may occasionally be disclosed. They take an oath, but that’s not the same as being thoroughly screened for a full-fledged security clearance.

To be clear, this isn’t about a candidate’s politics, experience, intelligence (IQ) or emotional fitness for the job. No. People vote or they don’t. President Trump could be as dumb as he is nuts, but we get who we elect. This is only about the qualifications of the President and Congressional leaders for security clearances. This is a technical point, like requiring that someone be able to dunk in order to make the team, so some short people might not qualify. Nothing personal. You just don’t make the cut.

The good news is that the solution is simple. Congress needs to pass a law requiring that, as a condition for your party’s nomination for President, you need to qualify for the highest level security clearance you’ll need if you become President. If you don’t qualify, don’t bother to run. In order to run, you have to be a natural born citizen, 35 years or older – and qualify for a high level security clearance. No amendment to the Constitution should be necessary. In fact, think of the requirement that the President have a security clearance as an extension of the principle that no one is above the law.

Won’t President Trump veto any legislation that might prevent him from running for a second term? Of course he would, but then the Senate would override that veto.

How can we be so sure? Because, as a US Senator, to let the veto stand would mean having to tell your constituents that you are willing to allow someone to be elected President of the United States who is a security risk. Who might not be willing to uphold his oath of office.

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