Let’s face it: Jared Kushner shouldn’t be in the White House to begin with. A callow man with little experience outside the world of real estate, no policy depth and no credibility in government (or around the world) might be employable as an intern, but in any other administration would not be there. That he is there, that he has an enormous portfolio and that he has operated for more than a year without a permanent security clearance (we suspect for very, very good reasons) tell you plenty about the deficiencies of this presidency.
White House chief of staff John Kelly has been locked in an internal struggle with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner over his access to highly classified information for weeks now, a confrontation that has escalated amid a recent policy overhaul and the resignation of a staff secretary who was accused of spousal abuse.
The dispute has deepened a growing rift between Kelly and Kushner, who initially welcomed the new system of rigor instituted by the chief of staff but has since grown frustrated by what he views as attempts to limit his access to the President.
Kelly distributed a five-page memo Friday announcing that the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances to access to top secret information if their background investigation has been pending since before last June — a category Kushner falls into.
Ironically, some in the White House considered this an “affront,” apparently to Kushner, rather than a long-overdue correction. To make matters worse, “Kushner is one of the few White House officials who regularly receives the President’s Daily Brief” and reportedly makes more requests for intelligence materials than any other non-National Security Council adviser. We would frankly like to know why this is — because he has responsibilities far outside his range of knowledge? Because he uses the material for nongovernmental purposes? Because he doesn’t appreciate the sensitivity of the information?
Several aspects to this situation are deeply troubling.
First, the reason that Kushner’s permanent clearance has not been approved may relate to his excessive number of revisions to his disclosure paperwork, his meetings during the transition with head of a sanctioned Russian bank and another with officials to discuss setting up a “back channel” outside the purview of American intelligence and/or his dependence on foreign funding for his real estate business. The real problem may not be the security clearance but his dealings with Russia, which reports suggest is becoming of greater interest to the special counsel.
Beyond that, indulging Kushner in this way makes a mockery of the classification system. “Permitting someone with unresolved security issues to continue to access our most sensitive intelligence makes a charade of our clearance process, sets a double standard, and presents a clear and present danger to sources and methods,” former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi tells me. Others in the administration see that the system means little and that there are no consequences for submitting incomplete or inaccurate material to apply for a clearance. Someone like Trump, who said Hillary Clinton was unfit for the presidency because of reckless handling of classified material, should be held to exactly the same standard. (Trump already showed himself to be far more reckless than Clinton in blabbing code-word intelligence to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.)
Kushner is the perfect example of one transgression begetting more. Trump violates the norms against nepotism in the White House. (Anti-nepotism rules are there for a reason: You can rarely fire a relative.) Worse, he hires a relative who is totally unqualified (and incidentally goes on to render horrible advice, reportedly including encouragement for Trump to fire James B. Comey as FBI director. Still worse than that, he hires an unqualified relative with suspicious ties to the Russians and a pattern of failing to reveal those ties. And to top it all off, he gives the unqualified relative with inappropriate Russian contacts access to intelligence materials.
If the administration’s operation seems to be getting more chaotic and incompetent by the day, it is because decisions early in the presidency are now coming home to roost. And in the case of Kushner, the current debacle reflects Trump’s own refusal to grasp the responsibilities of his office.