OOne of the fastest ways to be denied a security clearance, current and former intelligence officials will tell you, is to go into debt. And then there is President Donald Trump.
New revelations in a New York Time report show that Trump would have $421 million in debt coming due over the next four years. An audit battle with the IRS could cost him another $100 million. At the same time, he is said to have paid taxes to foreign countries well in excess of the $750 he paid in the United States the year he won the presidency and his first year in office.
For a sitting president, with the power to impose fear or favor across the country and the world, not to mention access to the nation’s best-kept secrets, such financial exposure is more than embarrassing. , say former intelligence officials and ethics lawyers: It’s made Trump a threat to national security.
“Having a person with access to classified information from the United States in deep debt is a counter-intelligence risk, because the debt holder tends to have a leverage effect on the person, and that effect of Leverage can be used to encourage actions, such as information disclosure or influence. that compromise the national security of the United States,” said David Kris, former head of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice and founder of the consulting firm Culper Partners.
If the due dates indicated by the Time are accurate, “a second term for President Trump would bring increased vulnerability — and therefore, potentially, risk,” said Robert Cardillo, former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. This would sound less like traditional foreign influence and more like “personal financial pressure”. [that] could negatively affect U.S. national security decisions,” he says.
Adds former director of intelligence James Clapper: “It was always the suspicion about Trump – that the Russians were funding him. If he was a “normal” employee, this would definitely be a counter-intelligence vulnerability. It’s scary all around.
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Trump, who broke a 40-year tradition among presidential candidates by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 election and tried for years to block legal efforts to obtain them, the Time report “totally fake news”. Trump has long maintained that the only people who take care of his tax returns are “journalistsand claimed he couldn’t release his tax information because it was under audit. The IRS has repeatedly said there’s nothing stopping him from doing so.
It’s unclear who Trump will turn to when the loans come due in his second term; American banks reportedly refused to lend Trump money for a long time. That could make Trump an even more attractive target for deep-pocketed foreign actors and their own American political interests, and add a new dimension to his interactions with countries where he has already launched business ventures.
It is for this reason, among others, that a person with large unresolved debts could be excluded from obtaining a security clearance, according to the US government’s National Security Arbitration Guidelines, which sets out the personal background considerations for determining whether a person is eligible. “An individual who is financially overstretched runs a greater risk of having to engage in illegal or otherwise questionable acts to generate funds,” said the 27-page document said.
Mark Zaid, a Washington national security attorney, says that once a client was denied a security clearance because the individual had too much student loan debt. Fear goes beyond coercion or blackmail, especially for a sitting US president. It could be that the president is susceptible to debt lawsuits, which would require someone to perform actions favorable to indebted nations to avoid personal ruin, Zaid says. “These are legitimate counterintelligence security concerns, and I would be shocked if US government agencies didn’t do what they could to monitor the president’s ties to foreign governments,” he said. “Any national security professional would be extremely worried.”
Zaid has made it clear that he is not talking about an active criminal investigation or counterintelligence, but rather surveillance to ensure that US interests are not compromised.
The Time The story also reveals new details about Trump’s overseas activities, saying he and his companies paid $15,598 in taxes in Panama, $145,400 in India and $156,824 in the Philippines in 2017. But the report acknowledges that the conclusions are incomplete.
Trump has been so defensive about his net worth that he sued a journalist and publisher in 2005 who claimed he was worth less than he claimed, arguing in a court deposition that his net worth was based on everything from the stock market to “my own feelings”. ” every day. This sensitivity has continued under the presidency, with Trump telling the New York Time in 2017 that he would cross a “red line” for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to review his personal finances.
This defensive posture only increases Trump’s vulnerability, say some former national security officials and legal experts. “His continued efforts to hide his financial situation and lie about it would pose a potential threat to national security,” said John Sipher, a 28-year-old retired veteran of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. “The fact that criminal or foreign intelligence groups could learn of Trump’s lies would provide them with unacceptable leverage and pose a counter-intelligence threat.”
Plus, Sipher says, the delay in paying off such large debts would also allow bad actors to create a way to approach Trump. “It would be dangerous and unacceptable for the President of the United States to be potentially financially indebted to unknown actors,” he said.
“There are a lot of warning signs all over this massive debt,” says Richard Painter, the former White House chief ethics counsel under former President George W. Bush. “We don’t know how serious it is.”
—With reporting by John Walcott
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