When Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, applied for a top-secret clearance as part of his White House duties, career officials balked. The president’s right-hand man nevertheless ended up with the security clearance, giving Kushner access to many of the nation’s most sensitive secrets.
And now we know why. As the New York Times was first to report:
President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner – including by the C.I.A. – and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.
The Washington Post published a related article of its own, reporting that Kushner and Ivanka Trump “pressured the president to grant Kushner the long-delayed clearance,” at which point the president “instructed” his White House chief of staff to resolve the matter, overriding the objections of career U.S. intelligence officials.
Asked for comment, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told NBC News yesterday, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”
Strictly speaking, that’s not entirely right. In fact, part of what makes this interesting is that Team Trump has already commented on security clearances quite a bit.
The president himself said in a New York Times interview last month that he had nothing to do with Kushner getting a security clearance. Ivanka Trump said the same thing, recently telling ABC News that her father “had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.”
It now appears that they were lying.
At a certain level, it’s easy to understand why. If the CIA and other career officials who deal with national security concluded that Jared Kushner should not have a security clearance, it’s problematic, to put it mildly, for Kushner’s father-in-law in the Oval Office to interfere.
Of course, there’s 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 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.”
Finally, there’s the related question of why we’re suddenly hearing about this right now. Who in the White House wants the world to know about Donald Trump subverting the security clearance system to give his young son-in-law access to secrets that intelligence professionals don’t want him to have?
Postscript: Americans were told in 2016 that Hillary Clinton’s handling of sensitive information was one of the most important issues on the national landscape, worthy of more front-page coverage than every other issue combined. The argument at the time was that the White House is responsible for dealing with the nation’s most sensitive secrets and anyone who’s been careless with shielding classified information should, at a minimum, be deemed suspect.
I wonder if Donald Trump’s handling of sensitive information is likely to receive comparable hair-on-fire attention.