New regulations that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is putting in place regarding White House security clearances has placed President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kelly, on a collision course. The potential conflict centers on which White House officials will continue to be able to review some of the country’s most sensitive secrets.
Revelations were made public in recent weeks that both ex-wives of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter come forward with allegations that he had physically, emotionally and verbally abused them while they were married. The White House had contended that they had become aware of the allegations only this month when one of Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Hoderness, submitted photographs of Porter’s alleged physical abuse to The Intercept.
But last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray contradicted that account, saying the FBI had notified the White House of the allegations as early as last year. Porter had been operating under a partial security clearance the entire time he was employed by the White House. The abuse allegations were part of the reason Porter’s security clearance was being held.
Subsequent analysis has revealed that over 100 officials working in the White House and elsewhere in the Trump administration are doing so without permanent security clearances. Forty-seven of them, including White House Counsel Don McGahn, First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, report directly to the President.
In the wake of the scandal Kelly has announced rules regarding security clearances. Among them are: the creation of a written protocol for the review of security files, a more formal notification process regarding clearances between White House departments and the FBI and new restrictions on what classified information those without full security clearance can view.
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted — especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly wrote in a memo sent on Friday. “We should — and in the future, must — do better.
Kelly also wrote that he would be revoking top clearances for anyone whose background check has been pending since June 1 or earlier. Those clearances would be reviewed by Kelly every month thereafter, he said.
That cutoff is believed to target Kushner specifically as Kushner initially failed to disclose dozens of contacts he had with foreign business and governmental actors, on the standard disclosure forms. He subsequently amended his submission, but that process meant that his background information was not fully submitted until June, after Kelly’s cutoff.
Kushner has reportedly told colleagues that he doesn’t want to give up access to high-level information. Kelly, although never criticizing Kushner publicly, is said to be privately dismissive of the Presidential son-in-law.
It has also been reported that Kushner has requested more U.S. intelligence information than any other White House staffer not working for the National Security Council in the time he’s been at the White House. He currently holds a Top Secret/sensitive compartmented information (SCI) security clearance, which is the nation’s highest. It allows Kushner to review some of the nation’s most sensitive information, including the presidential daily briefing.
The White House has maintained that Kushner’s ability to work on the extensive portfolio he’s been given will remain unaffected by the changes, although they won’t explain how.
Kelly reiterated that view in a statement yesterday. “As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly wrote.
“Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the president’s agenda. There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise,” he added.