WASHINGTON (CN) — A Newsweek reporter has brought a federal complaint to access records on President Donald Trump’s classified briefings, as well as details on how the government investigated the likes of Stephen Bannon for a security clearance.
Jeffrey Stein’s Jan. 31 lawsuit comes just days after Trump announced that he would give the chief strategist he picked out of the Breitbart news organization a seat on the National Security Council normally reserved for generals.
A national-security correspondent for Newsweek, Stein has been after records on the Trump administration’s access to state secrets since before there even was a Trump administration.
On May 5, 2016 – the same day the Washington Post ran a headline about the possibility that Trump would receive classified briefings (“It Might Not Go Well,” the headline said) – Stein filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for records about the briefings.
The complaint quotes those initial requests as stating point-blank that Stein “has no interest in learning what Mr. Trump is briefed about; he is only interested in the process, and he is specifically interested in records discussing any security concerns.”
Nine months later, Stein says the CIA and seven other agencies that he pressed for similar information have no legal basis to deny his requests.
The 40-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, notes that Stein resubmitted his requests in July, when Trump’s briefings began as the official nominee for the Republican Party.
After the election, amid reports that Trump planned to surround himself with unofficial advisers drawn from his family and inner circle, Stein fired off a new round of requests.
Stein explains that these requests sought “all records, including emails, about any steps taken to investigate or authorize (or discussions about potentially investigating or authorizing) [15 individuals] for access to classified information.” (Parentheses in original.)
“Each of these individuals had been announced or were rumored to be under consideration for positions which would require security clearances, and each individual had publicly-known adverse information in his/her background which would normally preclude the granting of a security clearance if the NSC Adjudicative Guidelines were followed,” the complaint continues.
Stein notes that the National Security Council guidelines determine all adjudications of agency security clearances.
The adverse information about Bannon, according to the complaint, is that he has been "charged with domestic violence and has demonstrated ties to white supremacist organizations.”
Three of Trump’s children also made Stein’s list. He notes that Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric all have “extensive ties to foreign governments and business interests around the globe, any one of which would raise serious concerns about granting [them] access to information classified in the interest of national security.”
The same goes for Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil leader whom the Senate confirmed Wednesday as secretary of state.
Stein says foreign ties also complicate a security clearance for Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, as does his ownership of the Observer, “which has worked closely with the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has extensive ties to foreign governments as well, according to the complaint, and he “has received money from the MEK while it was a designated terrorist group.”
Two others targeted by Stein’s requests are Pam Bondi (“received $25,000 as a campaign contribution from the Trump Foundation while her office was considering filing a lawsuit over Trump University”) and Betsy DeVos (“the sister of Erik Prince, CEO of military contractor Xe [formerly known as Blackwater]).”
Stein notes that Carly Fiorina was CEO of Hewlett-Packard, which “sold millions of dollars of technical equipment to Iran through a subsidiary while sanctions were in place.”
The complaint devotes quite a bit of ink to Trump’s national-security adviser.
Gen. Michael Flynn “has close ties to the Russian government, has accepted money from allies of Turkish President Erdogan, and was forced to resign from the Defense Intelligence Agency for mismanagement,” the complaint says.
“Additionally, it was recently reported that Gen. Flynn was found to have inappropriately shared classified information with foreign military officers by a military investigation, which would by itself warrant the denial of a security clearance for most federal employees,” the complaint continues.
Flynn made his son chief of staff, but Stein notes that Michael Flynn Jr. "has repeatedly disseminated false conspiracy theories.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to the complaint, “sits on the board of directors of Theranos, which is currently under federal criminal investigation.”
Then there is Gen. David Petraeus, whom Trump was said to have been eying for secretary of state.
Stein notes that Petraeus pleaded “guilty to mishandling classified information and resigned from the CIA after sharing classified operational information with his biographer.”
As for Wilbur Ross Jr., Trump’s nominee to be secretary of commerce, Stein notes that the billionaire investor has been linked to the mine collapse in Sago, W.Va., “which occurred after his company failed to correct problems for which it was fined in previous years.”
The eight agencies named as defendants to Stein’s suit are the CIA, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of State, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Office of Personnel Management.
Stein is represented by Kelly McClanahan, of National Security Counselors in Rockville, Md.
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