President Trump said Friday that he will leave any decisions regarding his son-in-law Jared Kushner's security clearance to his chief of staff, John F. Kelly.
“That will be up to General Kelly,” Trump said during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday afternoon. “General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call — I won't make that call. I will let the general, who's right here, make that call.”
Trump later added: “I will let General Kelly make that decision, and he's going to do what's right for the country. And I have no doubt that he will make the right decision.”
Kelly has said that starting Friday, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information — a move that could threaten Kushner, a senior adviser to the president whose background investigation has lasted for more than a year. Despite not having a final clearance, Kushner has had a high level of access in the White House and has seen some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets.
During the news conference, a reporter asked Trump whether he would be willing to grant a waiver for Kushner. The president responded by praising his son-in-law as being “a high-quality person” who has “done an outstanding job” at the White House and is not receiving any pay. Trump said that Kushner has been “treated very unfairly” and criticized the process by which people receive security clearances.
“We inherited a system that's broken,” Trump said, adding that it has taken “months and months and months” to get clearances for many of his staffers, even for those who do not have complicated finances. “It's a broken system, and it shouldn't take this long.”
White House officials have privately discussed concerns that Kushner’s clearance faces obstacles, according to people familiar with internal conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. Among the potential problems: repeated amendments that he had to make to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials.
A senior administration official with knowledge of Kelly’s thinking said that the chief of staff has been frustrated with Kushner’s high level of access without a final clearance and that he was aware the new policies could jeopardize Kushner’s ability to carry out his duties in the West Wing. The move puts a “bull’s eye” on Kushner, the official said.
Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Robert Costa contributed to this report.