US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, still does not have the top-level security clearance that some see as vital to handling the broad international portfolio handed to him by the American president, including spearheading the administration’s efforts on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser on the Middle East and other issues, was among many White House advisers who had been operating without approval for full security clearances for the first year of the Trump administration. That led to a White House policy overhaul in February that significantly downgraded access to sensitive information for Kushner and other Trump administration officials on interim clearances.
He was then granted permanent clearance in May. But that clearance was only for information classified as “top secret,” the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing two unnamed officials.
He is still unable to access information limited to a higher level of clearance, known as “sensitive compartmented information,” or SCI, which includes some of the information contained in the president’s daily intelligence briefing about ongoing operations.
It is not clear what factors led to the delay in his receiving his permanent clearance in May, but the Post noted that the White House has the power to grant “top secret” access internally, without requiring the usual background checks by the FBI or the special CIA approval required for SCI access. Kushner may have received his clearance that way.
Two experts cited by the Post said the lack of SCI access could limit Kushner’s ability to do his job, though there was no evidence this was happening.
Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who specializes in security clearances, said, “I think it would severely hamper his ability to do his job.”
Leslie McAdoo Gordon, also a security clearance attorney, agreed. “Of course it’s an impediment,” she said, adding, “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.’”
While the White House can’t grant the top-most security clearances, the president has the power to declassify any information he may want to share with Kushner.
Kushner’s security clearance has been beset by concerns among CIA and FBI officials over foreign contacts, and by the simple fact that he is a subject of a criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, a status that in itself can lead to the withholding of top-level clearance.
Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in May that Kushner received his clearance in the usual way and that he had access to the information he needed to carry out his responsibilities.
“With respect to the news about his permanent security clearance, as we stated before, his application was properly submitted, reviewed by career officials, and went through the normal process,” Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement. “Having completed these processes, Mr. Kushner is looking forward to continuing the work the President has asked him to do.”
Kushner was interviewed twice in the Russia probe led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller. The first interview occurred last fall and the questions were limited to former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who subsequently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and began cooperating with Mueller. The second interview occurred in April and concerned potential influence by foreign governments, including Russia, and the firing of former FBI director James Comey, among other topics, Lowell said on CNN in May. The interview did not deal with Kushner’s finances or his companies, Lowell said.
“In each occasion, he answered all questions asked and did whatever he could to expedite the conclusion of all the investigation,” Lowell said.
Kushner — the point of contact for foreign officials during the campaign and transition — was alluded to, though not by name, in Flynn’s guilty plea as a transition team official who encouraged Flynn to contact foreign government officials, about a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.
FBI background checks for security clearances routinely examine an applicant’s financial holdings and foreign contacts. The delay in Kushner’s case was caused by a backlog in the new administration and Kushner’s extensive financial wealth, which required lengthy review, Lowell said at the time.