Why Officials Balked at Giving Kushner a Security Clearance

On Thursday night, the New York Times reported that Donald Trump ordered officials to give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance, prompting both his chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to document their concerns in writing.

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.

Demonstrating that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that report contradicts what Ivanka Trump told ABC News just one month ago. She said, “The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance.”

In a report from a year ago, the Washington Post identified some of the concerns the intelligence community had in granting a security clearance to Kushner.

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.

It is very likely that intelligence officials were also concerned about several exchanges Kushner had with Russians. For example:

  1. In June 2016, Kushner was involved in the meeting Don, Jr. arranged with Russians at Trump Tower.
  2. In December 2016, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the top executive of a Russian bank, who reported that they talked about “promising business lines and sectors.”
  3. In December 2016, Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who reported that they discussed setting up a secret communications channel with Moscow, using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S.

That only covers what we know about possible concerns the intelligence community had when it came to granting a security clearance to Kushner. But it gives you some idea why both Kelly and McGahn put their objections in writing. Nevertheless, Trump overruled them.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.