May 5, 2018 / 12:11 AM / 22 days ago

Security clearance for Russia probe may be hard for Giuliani: legal experts

(Reuters) - Rudy Giuliani, who last month joined President Donald Trump’s legal team in the Russia probe, lacks a security clearance and may find it hard to get one to see classified documents because of his work with foreign clients, legal experts said.

FILE PHOTO: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks to members of the media as he attends the funeral service for U.S. evangelist Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Former New York mayor Giuliani told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that he would apply for top secret clearance, along with another Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. Trump’s outgoing White House lawyer Ty Cobb has a security clearance but no one on his outside legal team has had once since lawyer John Dowd resigned in March.

“They said they would get it right away,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani’s work as a lawyer and security and business consultant during the past 16 years has included assignments on behalf of the government of Mexico City and the Qatari state oil company.

Many of his clients have not been publicly disclosed.

The contacts could raise red flags during his background check about his susceptibility to foreign influence, according to some legal experts. The security clearances are typically issued by the U.S. Department of Justice after FBI review. 

The contacts could “cause a significant delay, if not outright denial,” of clearance, said Virginia lawyer John V. Berry, who specializes in the area.

Berry said a slow clearance may be an issue if Giuliani negotiates with U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into conclusions of intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

“It’s hard to represent someone without knowing what’s in the files,” Berry said.

Washington national security lawyer Bradley Moss said he thought Trump’s team might ultimately decide it was too much trouble to get Giuliani a security clearance and “just keep him in the big picture.” Moss pointed out Giuliani has acted as the public face of the Trump team since coming aboard.

Both Berry and Moss said Trump has the power to grant a clearance, despite any concerns.

Given the involvement of intelligence agencies and issues of contact with Russia, some of the materials relevant to the investigation would be classified as top secret or higher. The Kremlin denies interference in the election and Trump denies any collusion with Moscow officials.

Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on whether he would have difficulty securing a clearance. On Thursday, he played down the importance of a clearance for his role.

“There are only a few excerpted portions that we have to see,” he said. “I know what’s in them from the newspapers but, to make sure, they’re getting me a security clearance.”

Sekulow said he started the process after Dowd left the legal team. He said other lawyers on the team would seek clearance as well.

Giuliani took a leave of absence, rather than resigning, from law firm Greenberg Traurig to join Trump’s legal team.

Virginia Canter, an ethics lawyer with watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that is a potential problem because he is still tied to a firm that represents foreign governments.

Berry said investigators conducting background checks for security clearances look at how close a person’s ties are, what kind of money they receive from the contacts, and whether the country has interests adverse to the United States.

To get a clearance, candidates must fill out Standard Form 86, a 127-page document that Berry said “goes into every part of your life” and requires listing foreign contacts.

Moss said interim security clearances could be issued but only after the form is reviewed and there are no immediate red flags.

Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner received a temporary clearance but lost access to highly classified information in February 2018. Kushner had not received his full security clearance because of his extensive business and financial connections.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; editing by Anthony Lin and Grant McCool

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