Presidential son-in-law and senior White House advisor Jared Kushner has been caught in a crackdown on high-level White House executive staff who have been operating on interim security clearances as a result of long delays in the approval of their credentials.
The other troubling question is what was holding up Kushner’s security clearance.
This past Friday, the Washington Post published a story which said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had called White House counsel Don McGahan on Feb. 9 to tell him there were “significant issues” with Kushner’s clearance, but the story did not specify what those issues might be.
While the latest crackdown affects around 130 people, it raises critical questions about Kushner’s ability to carry forward the vast portfolio of highly sensitive matters he has been assigned by Trump, including making peace in the Middle East and relations with Mexico.
Trump could exempt Kushner from the process and force the system to give him a full security clearance but so far he has declined to do that, leaving it up to his chief of staff Gen. John Kelly.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 27, 2018
Kelly is taking action in the wake of the Rob Porter scandal, which saw the aide fired after it came to light that he had been accused of domestic abuse of his two ex-wives, which was not known even though he had gone through a security clearance procedure.
It turned out there were dozens of people in the White House who were operating on interim security clearances, including Kushner, which raised serious issues about whether they had the right to be viewing and handling top security documents and orders.
As a result, as of this past Friday, Kelly has ordered an end to all top-level interim security clearances where there are still pending investigations.
That means those like Kushner with Top Secret/SCI-level clearances, have now been downgraded to the Secret level, which means some sensitive information from intelligence sources must now be kept from them.
One immediate issue is whether Kushner will be able to continue to be present for the President’s daily briefing, which does at times contain top secret information.
In theory, Trump can choose to declassify anything he wants, but as with the Kelly decision, so far he has not agreed to do that.
When it comes to things like the situation in the Middle East, a lot of what is new will come from these high-level intelligence sources, so this could be a real problem.
Former Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough, now a security clearance lawyer in Washington, speculated for CBS News that Kushner’s issues may include his family’s extensive foreign investments and foreign contacts.
He noted that Kushner has had to amend his government financial disclosure forms dozens of times since he joined the White House.
October 11, 2017: The Director of the Background Investigations Bureau says the number of errors on Kushner’s security clearance forms are unprecedented. pic.twitter.com/RXBwgcQb8q
— Bridge Project (@BridgeProject21) February 27, 2018
He said that Kushner’s refusal to divest some financial interests could also be a problem, as is his failure to fully disclose all his holdings immediately.
Part of the problem with security a full security clearance may also be related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the role of the Trump campaign, and how Trump has handled the aftermath.
Kushner was not only among those who attended the notorious June 2016 meeting with Russian agents but also has had a lot of other contacts with Russians.
“If you have somebody who is under – I won’t use the phrase under criminal investigation – but somebody who could be a witness or a subject who is right now a subject of a criminal investigation,’ said McCullough, “and there was all this stuff just the last couple of weeks about Jared coming out about how they’re looking at his finances and everything else.”
“The bureau is also doing the clearance,” continued McCullough, “and so, the right hand and the left-hand does talk to each other over there. The last thing they want to do is grant the clearance and then indict him a week later.”
There may also be bureaucratic reasons the clearance have been held up but in Kushner’s case, it seems like he would be a very high priority so that doesn’t really apply.
Kushner’s case is more evidence of how confused and dysfunctional things are in and around Trump and is a reflection on the poor choices the president made in his choices for key staff.
It doesn’t help that Trump’s White House stinks with more nepotism than any previous presidency, or that the president himself thinks nothing of flouting any rules he doesn’t like the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
So Kushner continues without a security clearance doing the same terrible job he has been doing for a president whose idea of competence is anyone who frequently compliments him.