Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz said today that he would forego certain security clearances that are provided to all U.S. Senators to keep his dual citizenship with Turkey.
Oz was speaking to a group of reporters about the role David McCormick and his former hedge fund – Bridgewater Associates – played in the management of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS).
When asked about his dual citizenship with the United States and Turkey, Oz explained that he keeps his Turkish citizenship to care for his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. When queried what he would do if this would disqualify him from security clearances, Oz agreed that he would forego them in this situation, noting “I can love my country and love my mom.”
Oz was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Del. He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1982 and went on to receive a joint MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School of Business.
His parents were born in Turkey and under Turkish nationality law, children born to a Turkish mother or a Turkish father are Turkish citizens from birth. Oz served in the Turkish military to maintain dual citizenship.
To be clear on the law, there is no prohibition against dual nationals serving in Congress. “The only qualifications for serving in Congress are age, being a U.S. citizen for at least nine years for the Senate, and living in the state you represent at the time of election,” said Molly Reynolds of the Brooklings Institution to Politifact.
Unlike officials at federal agencies, lawmakers do not have security clearances per se, experts told Roll Call. Rather, members of Congress are by tradition deemed inherently trustworthy by dint of the offices they hold, although they are subject to punishment under the Senate ethics code for revealing classified information.
History has examples of dual citizenships by presidents, including James Buchanan and Chester Arthur, both British subjects. It was Theodore Roosevelt who first raised the question about dual citizenship in regard to politics, calling it a self-evident absurdity. Most recently, Ted Cruz’s Canadian citizenship was raised when he ran in the Republican presidential primaries in 2016.
“The election of a dual citizen would raise novel security policy questions,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project with the Federation of American Scientists, in an email.
“Currently, members of Congress are not required to hold a security clearance in order to access classified information. But the election of a person with dual citizenship might lead Congress to revise its rules in such a way as to limit the dual citizen’s access to certain types of classified information. Even if Congress did not act, executive branch agencies might unilaterally seek to withhold certain classified information from a dual citizen in Congress.”
Aftergood concluded that he “would expect congressional leaders to reach an understanding with the new, dual citizen member that would authorize classified information sharing under certain ground rules and with some limitations.”
While members of the U.S. Senate have had conflicts of interest in the present and past, the country has never had a senator who maintains dual citizenship, served in a foreign military, and maintains deep ties to the other nation, says Josh Rogin, columnist for the Washington Post.
“Oz’s dual citizenship – and his reluctance to renounce Turkish citizenship – will keep the FBI and security managers up at night,” said Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Is he really an agent of the government? There’s not really any evidence of that,” said Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But if Oz has business connections that rely on being in the good graces of the government, there are legitimate questions about his views on these issues.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been clarified to reflect that Oz answered “yes” to a reporter’s question about whether he would forego security clearances.