WASHINGTON — President Trump signed a bill Tuesday aimed at reducing the backlog of security clearance investigations — but later reserved the right not to comply with it on constitutional grounds.
In a signing statement Tuesday night, Trump said provisions of the bill — the Securely Expediting Clearances Through Reporting Transparency Act of 2018, or SECRET Act — encroach on his authority as commander-in-chief.
Among the provisions Trump objected to: A section requiring the White House Office of Administration to report on its process for conducting security clearance investigations for White House officials.
That process came under scrutiny in January when it was revealed that Staff Secretary Rob Porter — the official responsible for the entire paper flow in and out of the Oval Office — had been working without a permanent security clearance for more than a year. His clearance had been held up because of allegations of domestic violence from two ex-wives.
Senior Adviser Jared Kushner — the president's son-in-law — also had his security clearance downgraded in the aftermath of Porter's departure. He had to correct his security clearance application form after neglecting to report contacts with foreign agents.
In issuing the signing statement, Trump resorted to a controversial presidential tool that presidents have used to avoid vetoing bills even as they voice constitutional objections to them. By putting those objections in a separate statement, presidents signal to their subordinates how the law should be interpreted and enforced.
But Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said members of Congress "fully expect the administration to implement this law."
"Congress was clear in passing this bipartisan legislation that the administration needs to reduce the security clearance backlog so that we can meet our growing national security needs," said Connolly, a lead co-sponsor of the bill and ranking Democrat on the House Government Operations subcommittee. "Signing statements may make presidents feel good, but they have absolutely no force of law."
The security clearance bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously after the National Background Investigations Bureau stopped releasing statistics about the backlog in security clearances. Most of the bill simply instructs the administration to provide Congress with reports on the problems causing that backlog.
But Trump said in his signing statement that the Constitution makes him responsible for the security clearance process.
"I have stressed that the national security of the United States depends on a rigorous security clearance process," the statement said. "As the Supreme Court has acknowledged, however, the Constitution vests in the president the authority to classify information relating to the national security and to control access to such information."
Trump also argued that because the Constitution gives the president the power to recommend to Congress measures he believes are "necessary and expedient," Congress can't tell the intelligence community to make recommendations unless the president signs off on them.