President ordered top clearance for Jared Kushner despite concerns of John Kelly, intel officials |
Politics Election

President ordered top clearance for Jared Kushner despite concerns of John Kelly, intel officials

The Washington Post
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post
Jared Kushner, left, and President Trump confer during a signing ceremony at the White House in December 2018. Trump’s son-in-law pressured the president to grant him a long-delayed security clearance, and Trump instructed then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to fix the problem. Kelly told colleagues the move was not supported by intelligence officials.

WASHINGTON — President Trump early last year directed his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, to give presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance — a move that made Kelly so uncomfortable that he documented the request in writing, according to current and former administration officials.

After Kushner, a senior White House adviser, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, pressured the president to grant Kushner the long-delayed clearance, Trump instructed Kelly to fix the problem, according to a person familiar with Kelly’s account, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

Kelly told colleagues that the decision to give Kushner top-secret clearance was not supported by career intelligence officials, and he memorialized Trump’s request in an internal memo, according to two people familiar with the memo and the then-chief of staff’s concerns.

It is unclear how Kelly responded to Trump’s directive. But by May, Kushner had been granted a permanent security clearance to view top-secret material — a move that followed months of concern inside the White House about his inability to secure such access.

Kushner’s lawyer publicly described the process as one that had gone through normal channels, a description that Kelly did not view as accurate, according to a person familiar with his reaction.

The former chief of staff, who left the administration at the beginning of this year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s push to get Kushner clearance — and the chief of staff’s concerns about it — was first reported by the New York Times, which also reported that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn had concerns about Kushner’s clearance.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to weigh in Thursday evening, saying: “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that “in 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone.”

“That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time,” he added.

An attorney for McGahn declined to comment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement late Thursday that his panel, as well as the House Oversight Committee, will continue in their investigation of the White House’s security clearance process.

“The revelation that President Trump personally intervened to overrule White House security officials and the Intelligence Community to grant a Top Secret security clearance to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the latest indicator of the President’s utter disregard for our national security and for the men and women who sacrifice so much every day to keep us safe,” Schiff said. “There is no nepotism exception for background investigations.”

Both Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, have publicly denied the president was involved in securing a clearance for Kushner. The president told the New York Times in a Jan. 31 interview that he did not direct Kelly or similar officials to grant a clearance for his son-in-law, and Ivanka Trump similarly told ABC News earlier this month that her father was not involved in the process.

In the first year of the administration, Kushner held an interim security clearance that allowed him to view both top-secret and sensitive compartmented information, which is classified intelligence related to sensitive sources. With that designation, he has been able to attend classified briefings, get access to the president’s daily intelligence report and issue requests for information to the intelligence community.

But there was widespread concern in the White House about his lack of a permanent clearance.

In February 2018, Kelly limited the access of employees with interim security clearances to top-secret information in the wake of abuse allegations against a top aide. That new policy caused Kushner’s clearance to be downgraded from “Top Secret/SCI” level to the “Secret” level, a far lower level of access to classified information.

At the time, Trump said he would defer the question of Kushner’s access to his chief of staff.

“I will let General Kelly make that decision, and he’s going to do what’s right for the country,” the president said during a news conference. “And I have no doubt that he will make the right decision.”

The top-secret clearance that Kushner was granted last year gave him access to relatively basic classified information. Lowell said at the time that Kushner’s “application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process.”

Kushner did not receive a clearance to see the most highly classified intelligence the government produces, known as sensitive, compartmented information, or SCI, The Washington Post reported last July.

That meant that Kushner was effectively barred from seeing information gleaned from human spies or from the government’s vast signals intelligence apparatus. It’s that kind of intelligence that forms the basis of the president’s daily intelligence briefing and that is customarily given to senior policymakers and Cabinet officials.

Kushner’s lack of SCI access suggests that the CIA has not signed off on his receiving that level of intelligence, security experts said. He had struggled to obtain even his top-secret clearance, in part because of his contacts with certain foreign government officials, The Post previously reported.

Some foreign officials, whose communications were intercepted by the U.S. intelligence, privately discussed how they could manipulate Kushner, taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties he had at the time and his lack of foreign-policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Kushner’s foreign entanglements caused anxiety among U.S. intelligence officials who are ultimately responsible for deciding whether he should have SCI clearances, that step above top secret, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of internal deliberations.

The decision to grant an SCI clearance is usually made by the agency that generated the information. The CIA, for example, grants access to human intelligence gathered from agents and operatives. The NSA grants access to intercepted communications and intelligence generated by spying on foreign computer networks.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.