Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats suggested Tuesday that the White House should not be giving President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, full access to classified information.
At a hearing, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) asked Coats about a Washington Post report that dozens of White House staff still have only interim security clearances. Heinrich mentioned Kushner and now-departed White House staff secretary Rob Porter by name and asked whether staff whose background investigations turned up red flags should be allowed unfettered access to classified information.
Coats basically said no. Here's the key part of his response:
I might just say that I think sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot. But I have publicly stated if that is the case, the access has to be limited in terms of the kind of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive. So I think that’s something that we have to do as a part of our security clearance review. The process is broken; it needs to be reformed. As Sen. [Mark] Warner [D-Va.] has previously said, it is not evolution; it is revolution. We have 700,000 backups. So we have situations where we need people in places, but they don’t yet have that.
Earlier in Tuesday's hearing, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray confirmed the bureau had on three separate occasions issued what were thought at the time to be final reports on Porter. And Porter, who resigned last week in the face of spousal abuse accusations, had never been granted a full security clearance and was instead given a temporary one.
Kushner is the other high-ranking White House official relying upon a temporary clearance. Yet as The Post reported last week, he still has access to the President's Daily Brief, a highly protected document containing the latest intelligence information -- much of it classified -- from around the world.
It's not clear why Kushner hasn't been given permanent clearance, but he has been a key figure in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation, and his shoddy personal financial disclosures and complicated finances could also be part of the reason. Given that the process usually takes a matter of months — and often less for high-level staffers like Kushner — it seems possible some red flags have turned up for Kushner, as they did for Porter.
Exactly what those red flags might be or how potentially bad they might be are the big questions. What we know is that something has prevented him from gaining permanent clearance for 15 months, which is an inordinate amount of time.
Kushner's lack of a permanent security clearance is an issue that has floated somewhat beneath the surface for those 15 months, but Porter's problems have cast a spotlight on the process that Coats now admits is “broken.” And inside the White House, there is reportedly concern that the missteps made in the Porter scandal may wind up doing damage to Kushner.
Coats is not exactly someone who has been known to rock the boat in the administration. When The Washington Post reported Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo were telling associates that Trump had asked them to intervene in the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn, Coats's office downplayed the matter. A spokesman said at the time that Coats “has never felt pressured by the president or anyone else in the administration to influence any intelligence matters or ongoing investigations.”
Given that and the still-roiling Porter scandal, expect renewed focus on Kushner's clearance and questions about whether he should be dealing with classified information. And more troubling for the White House: Expect more questions about precisely why he still doesn't have permanent access.