But when White House security officials granted him a permanent clearance in late May, he was granted only “top secret” status — a level that does not allow him to see some of the country’s most closely guarded intelligence, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security issues.
Kushner has not yet been approved to review “sensitive compartmented information,” better known as SCI. The Central Intelligence Agency determines who can access this information, which primarily involves U.S. intelligence sources and surveillance methods, they said.
That has blocked Kushner at times from seeing some parts of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified summary of world events that sometimes describes intelligence programs and operatives, the people said.
Kushner’s lack of SCI access suggests that the CIA has not signed off on his receiving that level of intelligence, security experts said. The White House security office has authority to independently grant a “top secret” clearance after reviewing a staffer’s FBI background investigation.
The revelation of the limits on Kushner’s access is the latest twist in his drawn-out effort to complete his security review, a process that has been dogged by questions about his foreign contacts.
The reasons for the constraints on Kushner’s intelligence access are unclear, including whether they are related to the ongoing special counsel investigation, which has examined his interactions with foreign officials.
A spokesman for the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III declined to comment.
Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell declined to confirm Kushner’s current clearance level. He said that the White House handled Kushner’s security clearance according to the standard process and that Kushner has sufficient access to do his job.
“After a review done in the normal course by career officials, Mr. Kushner was given his permanent White House clearances in May, and has access to all the materials and information he needs to do the domestic and international work the president has asked him to do,” Lowell said.
White House officials and a CIA spokesman declined to comment, citing their internal policies of not discussing personnel matters.
The limits on Kushner’s intelligence access could complicate his ability to manage a portfolio that includes meeting with foreign leaders on Trump’s behalf and crafting a Middle East peace plan.
“I think it would severely hamper his ability to do his job,” said Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer and security clearance expert.
“Of course it’s an impediment,” said Leslie McAdoo Gordon, another security clearance lawyer and expert. “Whether practically it is hampering him, it’s hard to say in each case. In extreme cases, the president can override things and say, ‘I want him here for this meeting.’ ” As president, Trump has the authority to declassify information.
In May, Kushner’s supporters pointed to his ability to gain a permanent high-level security clearance as a sign that he faces no legal jeopardy from the probe led by Mueller.
Kushner has been interviewed twice by Mueller’s team — including in April, when he sat for six hours of questioning about a wide range of topics, including his meetings with foreign officials during Trump’s transition and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.
Current and former law enforcement officials said in May that it would be very unusual for any staffer to get a full security clearance if they were a subject or target of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Zaid said this week that Kushner’s permanent top-secret clearance would typically indicate that a background investigation had not turned up any compromising information and he was not the focus of a criminal investigation.
But, he added, the administration’s experience with security clearances has “not exactly been normal.”
“The granting of Kushner’s top-secret clearance may reflect he is currently out of legal jeopardy with Mueller’s office, but it may also be that the White House decided on its own not to wait and adjudicated him based on what information they know,” Zaid said.
McAdoo Gordon noted that clearance investigators normally check an internal Justice Department database to see if an applicant is the subject or target of a federal investigation. A person who appears in the index could face extended delays or additional scrutiny in seeking a clearance. But McAdoo Gordon said she doubts that Mueller’s investigators are disclosing the identities of their targets in the database.
“The White House may have said, ‘Look, there’s no derogatory information here,’ ” and if there were no other complications, they might have decided to grant him a clearance, McAdoo Gordon said. “The CIA may be more uncomfortable with the absence of information about Mueller’s case.”
During his first year in the Trump White House, Kushner was able to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets — including the President’s Daily Brief — despite his interim security clearance, a situation that frustrated some top White House officials.
With his interim SCI designation, Kushner was able to attend classified briefings and issue requests for information to the intelligence community. Security clearance experts said it is rare to have such a high level of interim clearance for such a long period of time. Typically, senior officials do not get interim access to top-secret and sensitive compartmented material for more than three months, experts said.
In February, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly downgraded the interim clearance of Kushner and several White House officials to “secret” after revelations that dozens of staffers were awaiting permanent security clearances and working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information.
The move came as The Washington Post reported that officials in China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates had privately discussed ways they believed they could manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.
Zaid said Kushner now faces significant constraints without the ability to view highly sensitive intelligence information.
“I could go play softball without my glove, but I would be hampered and not performing my best as an outfielder,” Zaid said, adding that trying to negotiate Middle East peace would be extremely difficult without the access.
Shane Harris and Julie Tate contributed to this report.