President Trump and those around him are no strangers to issuing false or misleading denials. But this is one of their most egregious to date.
The Washington Post has confirmed that Trump directed then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly last year to get a top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. That clearance had been held up for a year over concerns of career intelligence officials. Kelly, who was apparently uncomfortable with the whole situation, documented the request in an memo. The New York Times, which broke the news, reports that then-White House counsel Donald McGahn did the same.
By May, it was reported that Kushner had gotten the clearance.
Attempting to override the concerns of intelligence officials is certainly a questionable move. Those officials have worried that foreign governments may be able to get leverage on Kushner because of his business dealings and shoddy disclosures. This is technically an authority that a president has; whether he should have exercised it to help his own family is another question.
Setting that aside, though, both the president and his daughter Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s spouse, have issued denials that now look ridiculous.
“The President had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance. Zero,” Ivanka Trump told ABC News last month. When ABC’s Abby Huntsman asked whether she and Kushner had received any “special treatment,” Ivanka Trump said, flatly, “No.” (She also said at the time that the delay was simply due to a backlog, which is contradicted by lots of reporting.)
It’s theoretically possible Trump would have done this without his daughter’s knowledge, but The Post reports that’s not the case. According to my colleagues, Trump acted after she and Kushner “pressured the president to grant Kushner the long-delayed clearance.”
It’s important to note that it’s not clear whether Kelly acted on Trump’s request and whether it eventually led to Kushner and Ivanka Trump getting their clearances. It’s theoretically possible Kelly persuaded Trump not to follow through. Given the order came in May and Kushner had his clearance that same month, though, that would be quite the coincidence. And either way, the denials were that Trump was ever involved or gave his family special treatment. Neither holds up.
So that’s two denials from Ivanka Trump. But her father engaged in an even lengthier false denial. The Times’s Maggie Haberman asked him about this in-depth in January, and Trump denied it repeatedly.
Let’s walk through the false denials, one by one.
Denial No. 1:
HABERMAN: Can I switch gears for a second? There’s been a story in the news the last two weeks about your son-in-law’s security clearance.
HABERMAN: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials? The career veterans —
TRUMP: No. I don’t think I have the authority to do that. I’m not sure I do.
Denial No. 2:
HABERMAN: You do have the authority to do it.
TRUMP: But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t do it.
Denial Nos. 3 and 4
TRUMP: Um, Jared is a good —
HABERMAN: You never —
TRUMP: I was never involved with the security. I know that he — you know, just from reading — I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.
Denial No. 5:
HABERMAN: O.K. Why would you want to — why stay out? You do have the authority to —
TRUMP: I don’t know. I just don’t — I just, I never thought it was necessary. I also know him. He’s a very solid person, and I just can’t imagine he would have — I guess even, Ivanka, they, they, I heard that, uh, something with Jared and Ivanka —
Denial No. 6
TRUMP: But, uh, I don’t believe I’ve ever met any of the national security — of the people that would do clearances. Um, and there’d be nothing wrong, I don’t think, with me calling them up to the Oval Office and say, “Hey give these people, you know, clearances” —
HABERMAN: You just told me — [inaudible]
TRUMP: Yeah, yeah, so there, I, I mean, I take back the other — I didn’t, I was answering a little bit different question. Uh, I have the right to do it, but I never thought it was necessary, Maggie. I never thought it was necessary.
Denial No. 7:
HABERMAN: And you didn’t direct General Kelly or anyone like that to do it?
TRUMP: No. And, and frankly, I never thought it was necessary to do so.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined Thursday night to respond to these reports.
“We don’t comment on security clearances,” she said.
Well, you did before. And look how that turned out.