The head of a government bureau responsible for clearing background checks told lawmakers Wednesday he has “never seen that level of mistakes” when asked about numerous omissions in Jared Kushner’s security clearance application.
Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, a newly created division within the Office of Personnel Management, made the comment in response to a question during a House subcommittee oversight hearing.
Democrats have called on the White House to revoke security clearances granted to Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Ivanka Trump over reports of their use of personal email accounts and Kushner’s multiple updates to his security clearance questionnaire, known as SF-86, for failing initially to include meeting with foreign officials.
Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois asked Phalen, “can you recall if there has ever been an applicant having to submit four addenda detailing over 100 errors and omissions being able to maintain their security clearance once those errors and omission have been identified?”
Phalen said he has not seen “the breadth” of all applications “but I have never seen that level of mistakes.”
Earlier in the hearing, Phalen noted that OPM did not handle the fact checking of Kushner’s application. “I don’t know in the particular cases you’re talking about because we had no visibility in our organization into any of those activities. Those were done by other organizations.”
Kushner’s initial SF-86 form did not mention any foreign contacts, though he quickly supplemented it to indicate that he would provide that information. He updated the form in the spring, listing about 100 contacts, but did not mention the June 2016 meeting he attended with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump Jr., and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He updated the SF-86 forms once more in June to include that meeting.
Once the meeting was publicly revealed in press reports, it created a firestorm of interest especially after emails revealed Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting after being promised “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, though Trump Jr. says no such information materialized.
Trump campaign officials’ meetings with foreign nationals are of interest to Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Congressional committees investigating Russian interference with the election.
Jamie Gorelick, an attorney for Kushner, said Thursday, “as we have previously stated, Mr. Kushner’s SF-86 was prematurely submitted and, among other errors, did not list any contacts with foreign government officials. The next day, Mr. Kushner submitted supplemental information stating that he had had “numerous contacts with foreign officials” about which he would be happy to provide additional information. He submitted that supplemental information to the FBI and is cooperating fully with its background investigation.”
In July, Kushner released a statement saying it was an inadvertent mistake. “I did not remember the meeting and certainly did not remember it as one with anyone who had to be included on an SF-86,” Kushner said.
Earlier that month Gorelick expanded on the reason for the multiple amendments to the application form, noting, “he has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows,” Gorelick said.
A OPM spokesman said Phelan’s comments was “taken out of context” but did not elaborate.