Democrats ask for audit of Trump transition cybersecurity

GAO Headquarters in downtown Washington, DC (Credit: GAO)

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Two Democratic lawmakers, including the ranking member of the powerful House Oversight Committee, are asking federal investigators to audit the Trump transition team’s cyber and communication security measures.

In a letter to the Government Accountability Office last week, Democrats Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to “conduct a review of President-Elect Trump’s taxpayer-funded transition.”

Among the questions they want the auditors to answer: “Have telephonic, electronic, and any other communications by Mr. Trump and other transition members followed appropriate security procedures?”

The letter cites press reports that Donald Trump has spoken with world leaders on his personal cellphone — in one case the Australian prime minister, unable to reach Trump through regular channels, called him directly after getting his mobile number from one of the president-elect’s Australian golfing buddies.

“There is no indication of whether this call or Mr. Trump’s other phone calls with foreign leaders were on secure phone lines,” the lawmakers write.

The letter also raises questions about alleged financial conflicts of interest on the part of the president-elect and his family — asking auditors to look into whether Trump businesses have been providing paid services to the transition. The lawmakers also want investigators to probe what they call the “blurred line” between Trump’s transition and business activities, following a report that — during a congratulatory phone call with Argentinean President Mauricio Mauri — Trump asked Mauri to deal with the permitting issues that are currently holding up a Buenos Aires real estate project he’s involved with.

The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment, despite Trump’s angry personal attacks on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton over her use of personal communication tools — a private email server — during her tenure as secretary of State.

The GAO has received the letter, Managing Director for Public Affairs Chuck Young told CyberScoop. “It will now go through our normal review process [for Congressional requests] which typically takes about two weeks to complete,” he said. He declined to comment further.

During the review process, GAO officials check whether carrying out the requested investigation won’t duplicate ongoing audits or reviews, and whether the agency’s staff will be able to get the data needed to complete the work.

The GAO typically accepts congressional requests, but some of the questions raised about the Trump transition would appear to blaze new ground for its investigators.

Although office has previously audited transition spending — for the incoming Reagan administration in 1981, for instance — a search of its archives does not turn up any previous probes into alleged conflicts of interests on the part of an incoming president.

Nor is there any sign that investigators have looked into the cyber or communications security of any prior transitions.

In the last transition, in 2008-09, members of then-President-elect Obama’s team used their personal email accounts for official business — the security drawbacks of which became obvious last year after two young hackers successfully impersonated CIA Director John Brennan and took over his personal email account.

Two North Carolina men were arrested and charged with that hack in September.

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