For a guy so obsessed with border security, Donald Trump is remarkably glib about the security protocols at other important American venues. Namely, the White House and Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private Florida club where he has spent dozens of nights meeting with foreign leaders and hobnobbing with supporters.
Two separate stories this week paint a picture of an administration rife with security breaches, and a president who, at best, shrugs his shoulders at them, and at worst, is the reason they exist.
In Washington, D.C., there is the burgeoning scandal surrounding White House security clearances, and a whistle-blower’s claim that the administration has overridden more than two dozen security clearance denials in the past two years. These are people whose contacts with foreign governments and personal business interests, among other issues, led the White House Personnel Office to deny applications for security clearance. Now, because of intervention on behalf of the president and his staffers, some of these people have access to sensitive national security information. That two of the people at the center of this scandal are Trump’s daughter and son-in-law only makes it worse.
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are investigating the White House’s handling of security clearances, but this issue has drawn bipartisan criticism. Kurt Bardella, who served as a staffer on the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee from 2009 to 2013, wrote in USA Today that this scandal is a bigger deal than most think:
As someone who spent five years working for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee during the Obama presidency, I can tell you that what Trump has done with these security clearances is a far bigger scandal than “Hillary’s emails,” Benghazi, Fast & Furious, IRS “targeting” of conservative groups or any of the other so-called scandals Republicans obsessed over under the guise of transparency and security.
When you consider the many details about the Trump family finances and entanglements that have been kept secret from the American people, the potential for conflicts of interest is extremely troubling and dangerous. There are legitimate questions about what people are doing with state secrets and why. Are some of them putting their financial interests ahead of our national security? What is the motivation behind the president’s decision to overrule his own security and intelligence experts?
Meanwhile, down in South Florida, another national security scandal is coming into focus. Last weekend, a woman from China identified as Yujing Zhang, was arrested after she tried to sneak into Mar-a-Lago with four cell phones, a hard drive, and a flash drive infected with malware. Now, the FBI is investigating the possibility that the security breach was an effort at espionage.
This incident has led to broader criticisms of the security procedures at the club, where Secret Service agents must balance the responsibilities of their job with Trump’s desire to make sure paying customers are always flowing through the doors.
The security issues at Mar-a-Lago aren’t new, but the incident last weekend has brought them newfound attention. “This latest incident raises very serious questions regarding security vulnerabilities at Mar-a-Lago, which foreign intelligence services have reportedly targeted,” Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday. “The apparent ease with which Ms. Zhang gained access to the facility during the President’s weekend visit raises concerns about the system for screening visitors, including the reliance on determinations made by Mar-a-Lago employees.”
Trump, meanwhile, was asked about the breach this week. “No, I’m not concerned at all,” he said.