In more than two dozen cases, U.S. officials balked at extending security clearances to members of Donald Trump’s team, only to have political appointees ignore the findings. In several cases, staffers who were initially denied clearances for “very serious reasons,” but nevertheless ended up with access to sensitive information.
The senior White House official whose security clearance was denied last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct is presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with documents and testimony provided to the House Oversight Committee.
Kushner was identified only as “Senior White House Official 1” in committee documents released this week describing the testimony of Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower in the White House’s personnel security office who said she and another career employee determined that Kushner had too many “significant disqualifying factors” to receive a clearance.
Their decision was overruled by Carl Kline, the political appointee who then headed the office, according to Newbold’s interview with committee staff.
This report echoes related reporting from NBC News earlier this year.
There are a few notable angles to the ongoing controversy, starting with what appears to be examples of dishonesty from both the president and his son-in-law.
Donald Trump, for example, is on record saying he was “never involved” in the security clearance process. There’s some compelling evidence to the contrary: according to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the president instructed him to give Kushner a security clearance, despite the concerns of U.S. officials.
What’s more, in February, Kushner’s lawyer said Kushner’s security clearance “was handled in the regular process.” Evidently, that wasn’t true, either.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, there’s also the related question of why, exactly, Kushner’s application for a security clearance was rejected in the first place.
Intelligence professionals had every incentive to approve Kushner’s paperwork – they no doubt recognized his status as a prominent member of the president’s family, as well as a powerful aide in the West Wing – but they rejected it anyway.
Daniel Jacobson, who has experience working on security clearance issues in the Obama White House, had a fascinating Twitter thread in January, noting, among other things, that it “takes some pretty bad stuff to be denied a clearance.”
It’d be interesting to know what kind of “bad stuff” security professionals found in Kushner’s background. For context, let’s note that the Washington Post reported a year ago this week that officials from a variety of countries privately discussed ways they could “manipulate Jared Kushner … by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.”