U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Fla., today introduced a bill that would codify what she calls the “Coats Rule,” named after President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who this week declared in congressional testimony that individuals with interim security clearances should have limited access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets. Murphy, who is a former national security specialist for the Department of Defense, said her bill, called the Protect America’s Secrets Act, will prohibit any U.S. government employee, including an aide to the president, from accessing “highly sensitive” information unless that employee has obtained the necessary permanent clearance.
“As our country faces unprecedented cyber and intelligence threats, protecting our most sensitive information must be one of our top national security priorities,” said Murphy, who serves on the House Armed Service Committee and is co-chair of the National Security Task Force for the House Democratic Caucus. “The ‘Coats Rule’ is simple: individuals in the White House and throughout the federal government who receive interim security clearances should have limited access to highly sensitive classified information. As a former national security specialist, I know America’s adversaries won’t hesitate to exploit an employee’s undisclosed vulnerabilities through whatever means necessary, including blackmail.”
The Protect America’s Secrets Act would prohibit any U.S. government employee, including an employee working in the Executive Office of the President, from being granted access to “highly sensitive” information unless and until that employee has been cleared through an appropriate investigation. The term “highly sensitive” is defined in law and encompasses the United States’ most closely-held secrets. The Coats Rule would prevent individuals with interim security clearances from gaining access to the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified summary prepared by the intelligence community that provides the president and a small group of executive branch officials with an update on world events and our nation’s most sensitive intelligence activities.
“As someone who has previously obtained one of the highest security clearances while working on special operations at the Department of Defense, I know that protecting this kind of sensitive information is necessary to keeping our troops, our intelligence officers, and our nation safe,” said Murphy. “My bill does not prevent a president from selecting advisors of their choice; however, it does require that these White House aides pass a background investigation and achieve a permanent security clearance before accessing our nation’s most sensitive information, including the Presidential Daily Brief. My bill will allow the appropriate clearance process to run its course without undue political influence or partisan interference so that damaging information does not fall into the wrong hands.”
Murphy filed her bill following Director Coats’ Senate testimony on Feb. 13, 2018, where he addressed the controversy surrounding former White House staffer Rob Porter, who frequently attended highly classified briefings between President Trump and his top intelligence advisors despite only having an interim security clearance. This week, news agencies reported that the FBI disclosed this information to the White House as early as July of last year, expressing concerns that undisclosed domestic abuse could make Porter ineligible for a permanent security clearance. Despite the FBI recommendations that Porter be denied a permanent security clearance, he continued to have access to highly sensitive information.