I agree with Greg Sargent that President Trump’s decision to ignore the assessment of his own intelligence community and grant his son-in-law a top security clearance is something that could really blow up in his face. The president certainly has the authority to grant anyone a security clearance. He can also unilaterally declassify anything he wants, no matter how dangerous it might be to do so. The only check on this power is impeachment. Still, giving Jared Kushner a security clearance could wind up being a larger political problem than some people are anticipating.
A lot will depend on whether or not the public learns exactly why there was so much resistance to Kushner getting the clearance. We’ve certainly heard drips and drabs. Political Animal’s Nancy LeTourneau detailed what is publicly known this morning. I suspect the full story is even more damning, and my theory is supported by the fact that both then-White House counsel Don McGahn and then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly were both so opposed that they memorialized their concerns in writing.
This could become a much bigger scandal if the public becomes appalled that the president overruled everyone, considering what they have learned about the rationale for the denial. If they turn instead on Kushner, and focus on what has been learned about him so far, this could be an even bigger issue.
If Kushner is exposed in a very serious way, that will reflect badly on Trump in two ways. The first is that the Kushner/Trump relationship is not just a marriage, but also a family alliance coming out of the shady world of New York real estate. It’s unlikely that there any business reasons for denying a Kushner a security clearance that wouldn’t equally apply to a Trump. The second problem is that Trump has given Kushner such a big portfolio, including the responsibility of trying to negotiate a Middle East peace plan. If Kushner is discredited, it’s going to bleed over into Trump’s foreign policy and call into question how responsible he has been in conducting the nation’s business abroad.
Even if the worst that comes out of this is that Trump is forced take away Kushner’s extensive portfolio and remove him from the White House, that will be a severe blow to him. He doesn’t really trust anyone outside of his family, and he’s already extremely isolated after having churned through several iterations of top staff.
The sad truth, however, is that the intelligence community would never grant a security clearance to the president, let alone his kin. He’s considered a counterintelligence threat.