Donald Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner (File)
Overruling the concerns of intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, Donald Trump demanded that his Chief of Staff give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance in May 2018.
“Four people briefed on the matter” said senior Administration officials were so troubled that the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, wrote an internal memorandum that he had been “ordered” to grant the clearance, despite worries that Kushner was compromised by foreign powers because of his financial affairs.
White House Counsel Don McGahn set out concerns, including from the CIA, in an internal memorandum. McGahn said he recommended that Kushner not be given the clearance.
In May 2018, the White House Counsel’s office, led by McGahn, issued its recommendation to Trump. But the next day, Trump ordered Kelly to grant the clearance.
Trump said in a January interview that he had no role in the clearance process. Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said at the time that his client went through a standard process, and Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump echoed this three weeks ago.
Concerns Over Finances and Contacts
When Kushner became a senior White House advisor in 2017, he was only given a temporary, interim clearance, and the higher-level designation was held up.
In his application for a security clearance, Kushner failed to disclose many of his financial interests and meetings with foreign officials. Among these were a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys and contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In December 2016, Kushner — seeking loans for a $1.9 billion mortgage payment on a Manhattan high-rise building — met the head of the Russian State-owned bank Vnesheconombank.
Kushner later amended his declarations, saying he inadvertently omitted the entries.
Despite the agency concerns, Kushner was soon named Trump’s envoy for the Middle East and the point man for face-to-face contact with leaders such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Kushner has built a close relationship.
Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies said foreign governments such as China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE had described how they could manipulate Kushner for leverage on US foreign policy.
During a review of security clearances in February 2018, Kushner’s was downgraded from interim top secret to secret, limiting his access to classified information. Kushner and Ivanka Trump told friends and advisors that Kelly and McGahn were targeting them for petty reasons.
The two complained to Donald Trump, who turned to aides and asked, “Why isn’t this getting done?” On at least one occasion, Trump asked another senior official if the person could sort out the issue. The official said no.
Ironically, Kushner has been in the Middle East this week, purportedly discussing an Israel-Palestine “peace plan” which has never taken shape. Among his meetings is one with Mohammed bin Salman.