As speculation mounted earlier this month that Chief of Staff John Kelly might soon be shown the door following the Feb. 6 revelation that White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives exposed him as a domestic abuser, we anticipated that Kelly’s exit might be fraught with complications for one important reason: Many of top White House officials – most notably senior advisor Jared Kushner – are still working with the same type of temporary security clearance that Porter had.
Kelly’s equivocating over when, exactly, he learned about Porter’s sordid history drew attention to this uncomfortable fact, and we anticipated that, once the White House made clear it would stand by its man, the simmering tensions between Kelly and Kushner, whom Kelly has long treated with quiet derision, would soon spill over into public view.
And lo and behold: Not even two weeks later, the New York Times dropped a bombshell report late Tuesday about Kushner’s efforts to hang on to his top-level clearance – even after Kelly issued a memo on Friday promising to revoke access for any West Wing officials whose clearances were pending as of June 1 (as Kushner’s was).
This, in turn, has set the stage for a “Beyond Thunderdome”-esque confrontation between two of the most influential members of the president’s inner circle.
Kushner is fighting to keep his security clearance because, quite simply, it’d be nearly impossible for him to carry out his multitudinous responsibilities without it.
Mr. Kushner’s clearance has afforded him access to closely guarded information, including the presidential daily brief, the intelligence summary Mr. Trump sees every day, but it has not been made permanent, and his background check investigation is still pending after 13 months serving in Mr. Trump’s inner circle.
Of course, Kushner could’ve made things much easier for himself had he only immediately disclosed all his meetings with foreign officials – including former Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov – a needless embarrassment that was, in all likelihood, a ham-fisted mistake (though the left-wing media has sought to portray it as a nefarious cover-up in the absence of a crime).
The questions surrounding Mr. Kushner’s clearance are particularly acute because of the possibility that his extensive contacts with foreign actors – including travel, meetings with leaders overseas and multiple business ventures – might be relevant to the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling in the US presidential election.
And the fact that Mueller is now reportedly probing Kushner’s financial interests for conflicts (as his family business seeks to offload its interest in an over-leveraged Manhattan skyscraper) has given the bureau yet another reason to delay – or even flat-out deny – his clearance. Kushner initially failed to disclose some of the scores of those contacts on the standard form required of all US government officials.
As the Times points out, Kushner’s initial failure to disclose his contacts meant his background check information wasn’t delivered until after the June 1 cutoff Kelly specified in his memo.
According to Kelly, anybody who hasn’t received a permanent clearance – and whose completed application wasn’t delivered until after the cutoff – will lose access. However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Chief of Staff John Kelly’s new security clearance directive will not affect Jared Kushner’s work as a top White House staffer, per CNN.
Sanders declined on Tuesday to get into Kushner’s clearance status but said “nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work Jared is doing.”
But given Kushner’s massive portfolio of responsibilities – from supervising the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to streamlining the federal bureaucracy – it’s difficult to imagine how he’d be able to carry on his duties as anything other than a figurehead should his access to top secret information be revoked.
In all likelihood, the implications of this struggle won’t just impact Kushner’s security clearance: They’re integral to his very survival in the West Wing.
Either he maintains access, or he will in all likelihood join the long, long list of Trump administration alumni – and this in spite of his status as the president’s son-in-law.
…or as they say in BarterTown…