The Washington Post's White House team reports that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly really wouldn't mind if Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump left their jobs at the White House.
And it's easy to see why Kelly feels that way. From the moment Kushner started working at the White House, he has walked on the edge of what's ethically appropriate. The clearest example of this is his work with top-secret information despite not having been cleared to access it.
Kushner had only an interim security clearance, and the full one was on hold more than a year later as intelligence officials investigated his background. Experts said it's very unusual for someone to have a jury-rigged security clearance at the highest levels for so long.
No longer. Kushner's temporary security clearance was knocked down a peg last week while the investigation of his full security clearance continues, which could significantly hamper his ability to do his job.
Experts say that less influential federal employees (i.e. those who aren't related to the president) would have long since had their clearances denied for doing some of the things Kushner has done.
It's important to note that Kushner is not your average public federal employee. He's a political appointee who, by nature of his power, can play by different rules, said Evan Lesser, a security clearance expert and president of ClearanceJobs. That being said, “a lot of red flags would be raised if this was an average person,” Lesser said.
1. He's a prime target for foreign governments to try to get leverage with the United States.
Security clearances are as much about finding out the bad stuff you've done as knowing where your weak links are for foreign governments to exploit or blackmail. And it looks as though some foreign officials did try to exploit Kushner, who is the definition of a prime target.
The Post's Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey report that the intelligence community discovered that officials in China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have zeroed in on Kushner to manipulate in negotiations. Some foreign officials wanted to deal only with Kushner and not more experienced personnel.
That's one reason Kushner hasn't received his full top-secret security clearance, they report.
Lesser said one of the main reasons people are denied a clearance is because they have debt or foreign influence.
Here, Kushner has both: His family's real estate business is in debt, and he has a complicated financial arrangement that spans continents. The special counsel investigation of Russia meddling is looking into his business dealings. And he's new to government and diplomacy, which makes him a prime target.
2. He wasn't upfront about his foreign contacts with other White House officials.
If security clearances are given for being forthright, they can be taken away for not being so. And it looks as though Kushner didn't originally tell the White House's top national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, about all the foreign contacts he has had recently.
McMaster was caught off guard by all of Kushner's foreign dealings, The Post reports. After McMaster found out, he appears to have persuaded Kushner to let the National Security Council know about them. (The idea here being that the council would know where the pressure points are that governments might use on Kushner, and its team of experts could help Kushner prepare for meetings with foreign officials who might try to take advantage of his business dealings.)
But not being upfront about dealings that have national security implications is usually a red flag in the clearance process, which is trying to gauge whether a person is trustworthy enough to handle classified information.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer who specializes in security clearances, said it appears that Kushner is facing legitimate disqualifying concerns. And the question is: Can he mitigate those concerns to get a full security clearance?
In this case, Kushner will have to answer questions such as, “Why in the world are you going into these meetings by yourself?” Zaid said.
3. He repeatedly amended his application because he omitted foreign contacts.
Kushner told Congress in July about four meetings he had with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
But none of those meetings were disclosed on his security clearance form. In fact, he amended it several times to disclose foreign contacts.
It's worth stepping back to remember what that form is: an intrusive 127-page document designed to test whether the applicant has any compromising relationships with foreign governments and, perhaps most important, to test the applicant's willingness to be honest.
Kushner has said it was all a miscommunication, and he corrected the form before the FBI brought it to his attention. Zaid added that there are legitimate reasons Kushner might not have included some of those officials and meetings on his form. If the meeting lasted only five minutes, he arguably didn't need to report it, for example.
But those aren't the only meetings with foreigners Kushner hasn't been forthcoming about.
During the transition, he proposed that the Russians help him set up a secret line of communication, ironically in one of the most spied-upon buildings in the world, the Russian Embassy in Washington. That meeting wasn't originally on his form, and Zaid said it should have been.
Kushner's ongoing involvement in the Russia investigation, repeated omissions — to the White House and on the form — of his foreign contacts, plus his extreme vulnerability to foreign governments, builds a reason for someone to question his judgment and trustworthiness.
“Even in the best light, it raises concerns for national security because of the perception he doesn't fully comprehend the sensitivities, and that goes to his judgment and possibly trustworthiness,” Zaid said.