Trump reportedly overruled White House officials to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret clearance — and tried to cover it up

Trump reportedly overruled White House officials to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret clearance — and tried to cover it up
DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro

On Thursday, The New York Timesreported that in 2018, after intelligence officials flagged problems in President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's top-secret security clearance application, the president personally ordered the clearance be approved — and that multiple White House officials wrote memos expressing their concern with Trump's disregard for protocol:

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.

The president, as the ultimate authority behind intelligence classification, has the power to personally grant clearances in contravention of the intelligence community's recommendation — but it is unusual and highly irregular to do so.

Moreover, Trump and several of his allies have stated on no uncertain terms that he never interfered in the background check process for Kushner. The president said he "was never involved," in an interview with The Times. Trump's daughter Ivanka has echoed this line, saying Trump had "zero involvement" in the clearance process for her and Kushner. Abbe Lowell, Kushner's lawyer, also claimed that the clearance had gone through standard channels.

Kushner has served in highly sensitive roles for his father-in-law, including meetings with foreign heads of state and leading the effort for a Middle East peace plan.

It is unclear what specifically in Kushner's background check, which hung in limbo for months as Kushner relied on an "interim" clearance, led to intelligence officials advising against approval. But he has had to repeatedly re-file his disclosure forms, after having omitted over 100 foreign contacts. Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, said that he has "never seen" mistakes as blatant and numerous as Kushner's disclosures.

In January, it was reported that Carl Kline, the director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President, overruled recommended security clearance rejections for at least 30 Trump appointees, including Kushner.

It was always questionable to put Kushner in the White House in any case, as he has no relevant policy experience for virtually any of the tasks he's been assigned. But if Trump granted him access to highly vulnerable state secrets that he did not qualify to be cleared for, and then lied about it, that makes the whole episode even more disturbing.

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