Kelly Knocks Kushner’s Clearance Down a Peg
President left decision on son-in-law to chief of staff
White House aides are not disputing reports that Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, no longer has a top-secret security clearance, limiting the amount of sensitive information he can view.
Kushner, a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, has had an interim clearance at the TS/SCI, or “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information,” level since Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017. Chief of Staff John Kelly, however, has downgraded Kushner’s interim clearance to the “Secret” level as part of a West Wing crackdown on interim clearances.
Kushner has been unable to gain a permanent TS/SCI clearance for unknown reasons, with White House aides declining to comment on the delay. Kushner’s lawyers say he has done everything asked by federal officials overseeing his security vetting and clearance processes.
Kushner will retain the ability to view some classified data.
Several White House officials declined to comment Tuesday afternoon after Politico and the Wall Street Journal published reports saying Kushner’s clearance had been downgraded. But in exchanges with a reporter, White House aides known for aggressively shooting down stories they believe are false did not do so here.
“Listen, I’m not talking about security clearances,” one West Wing aide said. “I’m not going to federal prison.”
Trump last Friday said for the first time he would let Kelly decide what to do about Kushner’s clearance situation.
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That is reflective of a broader policy, as articulated earlier Tuesday by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told reporters when asked about Kushner’s situation: “We do not comment on individual security clearances.”
“We actually haven’t commented on Jared’s,” she said. “But we have commented on his ability to do his job, which he’s a valued member of the team, and he will continue to do the important work that he’s been doing since he started in the administration.”
His portfolio, which shrunk when Kelly took over as chief of staff in August, is topped by trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Kushner’s clearance change came hours after Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and panel member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to senior administration officials demanding answers about the White House security clearance struggles.
“Recent reports reveal that officials at the highest levels of government may be operating with only interim security clearances, either because of delays in the clearance-granting process or because information revealed during that process is not acted on in a timely and appropriate fashion,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to White House Counsel Don McGahn and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“If true, this raises significant concerns that ineligible individuals, who hold positions of public trust, may have access to sensitive or classified information,” Grassley and Blumenthal wrote.
Grassley and Blumenthal requested information on, among other things, the number of individuals in both the White House and on Capitol Hill operating with an interim security clearance from fiscal years 2009 to 2018, and the policies governing the ability of those persons to access classified information.
Kelly purged a number of senior aides who were working with classified information despite lacking permanent clearances after the disclosure that another top aide, Rob Porter, also was unable to get a permanent clearance due to allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives.
In a five-page memo to staffers released by the White House Feb. 15, Kelly alluded to the Porter scandal but also attempted to spread the blame to the clearance process he inherited, which he said was flawed.
Porter, until recently the White House staff secretary, resigned earlier this month amid domestic abuse allegations from his two ex-wives. The White House disclosed that he handled classified information even though his security clearance background check had not yet been completed.
The matter has “focused immense attention on a clearance process that has been in place for multiple administrations,” Kelly told White House aides.
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted — especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly wrote. “We should — and in the future, must — do better.”