March 4, 2019
As Rudy Giuiliani would say, “The truth isn’t the truth.” And that statement, made last August by President Donald Trump’s attorney, now seems especially relevant to the messages spun by the White House about how the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, got his top -security clearance
After denying it for months, President Trump finally has admitted that he ordered aides to put through a top-security clearance for Kushner. This presents no problem; it is the president’s prerogative to do so. But why the secrecy and lies?
Let’s go back to the beginning.
According to a report by ProPublica, nearly 18 months into the new administration, Kushner’s F.B.I. background check still had not been “completed.”
Kushner had gone back to make at least 40 changes to the disclosure report that he had filed with the Office of Government and Ethics to obtain his security clearance—and had formally submitted the form at least three times in total.
Yet, Intelligence officials and Executive Office personnel staff were digging in their heels and refusing to move forward to grant Kushner the high-security clearance he needed to access sensitive White House information.
He effectively was stuck in a holding pattern, unable to move forward due to family and business connections—and unwilling to back off from his high-profile White House position.
“I was never involved with the security” clearances for Jared Kushner, the president told two reporters from The New York Times for a February 1 report, adding, “I know that there [were] issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”
Daughter Ivanka said in a February 8 interview with ABC-TV’s The View, “There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.”
At that juncture, however, only one person could have—or would have—ended the standoff.
While the White House’s personnel security office is tasked with granting security clearances, if there is a dispute about how to move forward, the White House counsel makes the decision. However, in highly unusual cases, the president can weigh in and grant one, himself.
And that’s exactly what happened, the Times reported last week. Action only was taken to elevate the security clearance after Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, repeatedly had complained in person to the president—and Donald Trump had opted to take action himself.
In May, the president stepped in to direct his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to overrule concerns and “fix the problem,” according to a person familiar with Kelly’s account who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity.
With great reluctance, Kelly moved forward, enabling Carl Kline, director of the Personnel Security Office in the Executive Office to overrule security experts and approve a top-security clearance for Kushner.
However, Kelly took precautions: In the scenario described by the news outlet, “… Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
In addition, the White House counsel at the time, Donald McGahn, wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Kushner—including by the C.I.A—and how he had recommended that Kushner not be given a top-secret clearance.
Six months later, and for no clear reason, the entire process still is cloaked in secrecy.
An attorney for McGahn declined to comment. The former chief of staff, who left the administration at the beginning of this year, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to weigh in on February 28, instead saying: “We don’t comment on security clearances.”
Finally, as Fox News reported when the news of the president’s intervention hit, “A spokesman for White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner’s attorney told Fox News [on February 28] that President Trump’s son-in-law received a top-secret security clearance through ‘the regular process with no pressure from anyone.’”
Research contact @nytimes