President Donald Trump ordered his chief of staff to arrange top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, ignoring concerns raised by intelligence officials worried about Kushner’s foreign contacts, the New York Times reported Thursday.
That report contradicts a statement the president made to the Times in January, in which he said he had no role in Kushner’s security clearance. Kushner’s lawyers also had said his security clearance had gone through normal processes.
According to the Times, Don McGahn, the White House counsel at the time, wrote a memo in May recommending Kushner not be given a top-secret clearance. The next day, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff at the time, was, as he wrote in a memo soon after, “ordered” by Trump to give Kushner clearance. (Others have said Trump’s exact language could have been interpreted as a wish rather than an order, the Times noted.) Kelly, aware of the security concerns flagged by officials at the CIA and other intelligence agencies, wrote a memo to document his concerns.
While it’s not clear exactly what the intelligence officials’ concerns were, we know that officials raised concerns about his contacts in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia, as well as his family’s business ties to foreign governments. Kushner had operated under a provisional clearance as he underwent a background check that, as it dragged on, became harder to explain. Then, in February 2018, after the White House staffer Rob Porter was found to have a security clearance despite accusations of domestic abuse, Kushner’s interim security clearance was downgraded from top-secret to just secret, meaning he could no longer see the president’s daily intelligence brief. Three months later, Kushner was granted a permanent top-secret security clearance.
According to the Times, the White House counsel often makes the decision about an employee in disputed cases. The president has the authority to grant clearances, but doing so is unusual.