Posts tagged with "Chief of Staff John Kelly"

Secrets and lies: Why were we misled about Jared Kushner’s security clearance?

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.

And in fact, Kushner never would have received his clearance, if he had stuck to the “standard process,” as both the president and ‘First Daughter’ Ivanka have claimed he did.

“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

Three more administration officials head toward Trump’s losers’ circle

November 15, 2018

Insiders at the White House might be humming Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” as—just a week after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—the president prepares once again to reconfigure his cabinet and West Wing staff.

First on the list of goners is almost certainly Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security. She has long been a target of Trump’s tirades, three people close to the president told The New York Times for a November 13 report. Indeed, the POTUS had floated the idea of dismissing Nielsen ahead of his trip to Paris for World War I commemoration ceremonies.

And if Nielsen goes, one of her strong supporters may be ousted, too. Internally at the White House, the Times said, removing Nielsen is perceived as a way for President Trump to push out White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, without directly firing him.

Although, the news outlet said, Trump and Kelly supposedly arrived at a plan earlier this year for the chief of staff to stay through the 2020 election, the POTUS privately has hinted that he would not bet on Kelly remaining in his job that long.

Kelly’s likely successor already is in the queue: Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, long has been seen as a prospective replacement for Kelly, if and when he makes his exit—and is favored by the president’s family members, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Trump.

Finally, another administration official who is at or near the departures gate, following a run-in with First Lady Melania Trump, is Mira Ricardel, who serves as a deputy to National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Ricardel, who previously worked at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, had disparaged two members of the East Wing staff during the FLOTUS’s trip to Africa last month, a Times source said. She also is rumored to have tangled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on issues of policy and Pentagon personnel.

The rift with Melania Trump hit the headlines this week when—in a highly unusual statement about West Wing personnel matters—a spokesperson for the first lady, Stephanie Grisham, addressed Ricardel’s status. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said.

Since the president hates interpersonal confrontation, he often delays dismissals and then delegates them to Kelly. How these next staff changes will be handled is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @maggieNYT

Editor’s update (11/15): Mira Ricardel now has been removed from her national security job in the White House and will continue to serve the administration in another role.

CNN sues Trump and White House aides for pulling Acosta’s press pass

November 14, 2018

CNN on November 13 filed a lawsuit against the President Donald Trump and several of his aides—including Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Director of the U.S. Secret Service Randolph Alles, and Secret Service Agent “John Doe” in his official capacity—in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demanding that the press credentials of Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta be restored, the network reported.

“The suit escalates a long-running feud between President Trump and CNN and could test the limits of the president’s ability to crack down on news organizations whose coverage he does not like,” CNN said.

According to the terms of the complaint, Acosta has covered the White House since 2012 and, since 2013, has possessed press credentials—often called a “hard pass”—that allow him regular and unescorted access to White House briefings. However, on November 7, the defendants “revoked Acosta’s White House credentials because, in the president’s own words, Acosta failed ‘to treat the White House with respect’” at a briefing.

What’s more, the suit alleges “the revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning; as the president explained there ‘could be others also’ who get their credentials revoked.”

In the suit, the cable news network accuses Trump and other administration officials of violating Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process, respectively, and asks the court—presided over by Trump appointee Judge Timothy J. Kelly—to immediately remediate the issue by replacing the credentials.

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” CNN said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

Indeed, said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker in an internal memo to staff, “This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented.”

The White House responded immediately, with Sanders remarking that CNN is “grandstanding” by suing. She said the administration will “vigorously defend” itself. (Read the White House’s full response here.)

Specifically, the White House initiated its action against Acosta after he refused to give up his microphone to an aide and continued to question the president. Sanders has characterized that action as improper, saying that Acosts “plac[ed] his hands on a young woman.”

However, other reporters seated nearby did not confirm the White House’s accusations. Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted on November 8, “The White House press office is sharing a manipulated video that makes it appear that Acosta was menacing the intern when he was not and did not. The intern reached over Acosta to grab the microphone while he trying to ask another and Acosta tried to pull away.”

Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox said in a statement on November 13. “We continue to urge the administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent. The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”

“I have always endeavored to conduct myself as a diligent but respectful reporter who asks probing but fair questions,” Acosta wrote in  a formal statement. “The revocation of my White House press credential not only destroys my ability to perform my current job, it will follow me for the rest of my career. My reputation and my future career prospects have all been significantly harmed if not completely devastated.”

 Research contact: @brianstelter

Trump Calls Omarosa Manigault Newman ‘That Dog’

August 15, 2018

On Tuesday, August 14—the morning that former White House Assistant to the President Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump Administration went on sale—the POTUS tweeted his thoughts at 7:31 a.m. “When you  give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”

In response, Manigault Newman told Katy Tur of MSNBC that, if her former boss called her a “dog” in public, she wondered what he called her privately.

During that same interview, Manigault Newman said that she had told Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the investigation on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, that “there was a lot of corruption” in the campaign and the administration. She added that Trump had known about the “hacked emails” before they were released.

And the plot continues to thicken, as Trump and Newman expertly lob insults—and damning new information—at each other.

Trump has deployed the “dog” insult previously, The New York Times reported. In one case , the news outlet said, Trump claimed that his onetime political rival Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) “lies like a dog” and, in another, he called Arianna Huffington, co-founder of HuffPost, a “dog.”

On Monday, NBC released a tape Manigault Newman made of her speaking to Trump, which she said was recorded the day after she was fired. In the recording, the president said he knew nothing about this personnel decision and told her, “I don’t love you leaving at all.”

Last December 12, White House Chief of Staff, John F. Kelly, fired her in the Situation Room, the most secure conference room in the White House. Manigault Newman has released a recording of that conversation, as well.

Kelly said, according to her new book, “I’d like to see this be a friendly departure. There are pretty significant legal issues that we hope won’t make it ugly for you.” However, he declined to hash over the rationale for letting her go, saying “This is a nonnegotiable discussion.”

Manigault Newman has said she has more audio recordings, and in an interview Monday on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” she said she would continue to cooperate with the special counsel, if asked. “Anything they want, I’ll share,” she said.

Just the day before, on August 13, a Trump tweet confirmed, after months of confabulation on the issue, that Manigault Newman had been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Such agreements are illegal, unless they are confined to information that is top secret and highly secure.

The POTUS’s job approval rating registered at 39% on August 12, according to the Gallup poll.

 Research contact: datainquiry@gallup.com

Kelly denies calling Trump an ‘idiot’

May 2, 2018

Last May, when the Quinnipiac University Poll asked U.S. adults for “the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump,” 39% of respondents said, “idiot.” Now, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is in hot water, based on reports that he said the same thing.

Indeed, leaks from four administration sources—posted on May 1 by NBC News—imply that Kelly portrays himself as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, “curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government.”

Those same White House officials reportedly claim that Kelly has referred to Trump as “an idiot” multiple times to underscore his point.

Kelly called the allegations “total BS,” NBC notes, providing the full statement issued by the chief of staff right after the rumors broke: “I spend more time with the president than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship,” said Kelly in the statement. “He always knows where I stand and he and I both know this story is total BS. I am committed to the president, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”

In addition, the network reports, three White House spokespeople said they don’t believe it’s accurate that Kelly called the president an “idiot,” adding that none of them has ever heard him do that or otherwise use that word.

However, Kelly is not the first administration official to draw fire for his comments on the POTUS. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never fully denied having called President Trump “a moron” in front of colleagues.

Tillerson was recently replaced by former CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Now, NBC News reports, some current and former White House officials said they expect Kelly to leave by July, his one-year mark. But others say it’s anyone’s guess.

Research contact: contact.nbcnews@nbcuni.co

Should Kushner lose his White House gig?

March 12, 2018

More than half of Americans (55%) say that it worries them that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has had access to top-secret information during the past year, while 41% say it is not a problem, based on findings of a Monmouth University Poll among 803 U.S. adults  released on March 7.

Kushner’s security clearance was taken down a peg in late February by Chief of Staff John Kelly, after the POTUS, himself, disencumbered himself from the political and personal decision.

Since the 2017 inauguration, Kushner had been working at the White House in a senior adviser role that enabled him to read top-security reports prepared for the president’s eyes (and those of his most-trusted and highly vetted staff) only.

His security clearance has now been downgraded to “secret”—representing a substantial diminution of his access and power.

The Monmouth poll finds that the public is divided on the role that the Trump family business plays in administration policymaking. Overall, 43% believe that the personal financial interests of Trump family members have too much influence on policy decisions made by the president. Another 20% say these personal interests have an acceptable amount of influence and 31% say they have no influence on presidential decision-making.

Few Americans (24%), though, think it is a good idea that the president’s son-in-law is working in the White House as an unpaid senior adviser. Fully 6-in-10 (60%) think it is a bad idea.

A majority (55%) of respondents to the Monmouth poll also think that Kushner should resign from his position, while 33% say he should continue working in the White House.

About six out of ten (62%) of those polled had already heard about Kushner’s security clearance downgrade before being interviewed and, among this group, 57% say his prior access to top-secret information worries them with 61% saying Kushner should resign.

Most Americans (57%) say that the Trump family’s personal financial interests or other ties to Russia definitely (29%) or probably (28%) influence the way Trump deals with that country’s government. Less than 40% say these ties do not play a role in the president’s approach to Russian relations (19%, probably no;t and 17%, definitely not).

The public is divided on whether the Trump administration may be too friendly toward Russia. For the president himself, 52% are concerned that Trump is too friendly and 46% are not concerned. Similarly, 52% are concerned that other members of the administration are too friendly and 43% are not concerned about this.

The public also is divided on whether Trump’s attitude toward Russia presents a national security threat: Fully 50% say it does and 45% say it does not. These results have not changed significantly from polls taken last year. Specifically, concern that Trump is too friendly toward Russia has ranged from 48% to 54% since he took office.

“When it comes to how Trump deals with Russia, the American public seems to have locked in their views months ago. Actions taken, or not taken, by the administration and revelations about the investigation over the past year have done little to move this opinion,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The poll finds, though, that nearly two-thirds (64%) say the Russian government is definitely (26%) or probably (38%) trying to interfere in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. And nearly three-quarters of Americans say that Russia definitely (43%) or probably (30%) interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

The 73% who now believe in the likelihood of Russian interference in 2016 is up from 65% who said the same in July 2017.

Research contact: pdmurray@monmouth.edu