Jared Kushner ‘Loses’ Top Secret Clearance (But Maybe Not Access)

The White House chief of staff has downgraded the President's son-in-law's access to classified information. We'll see how long that lasts.

After weeks of controversy over staffers who can’t pass the clearance process still having access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets, White House chief of staff John Kelly has made a major move.

CNN (“Kushner security clearance is downgraded“):

Interim security clearances for White House aides, including Jared Kushner, were downgraded last week after chief of staff John Kelly stipulated new changes to how officials access the nation’s secrets, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Aides who previously operated on “top secret” interim clearances saw their access changed to “secret,” a classification for less sensitive material.

In a February 16 memo, Kelly stated that White House officials who have been operating on interim clearances since last June would have their temporary clearances discontinued.

That included Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser. Asked on Friday whether he would grant Kushner an exemption from the new mandate, Trump said it would be Kelly’s decision.

The White House has refused to detail the status of Kushner’s clearance.

Kushner is accepting the decision about his security clearance and “will not ask for special permission” from the President, one person familiar with situation says.

Politico first reported the security clearance downgrade.

“He is a valued member of the team and will continue to do the important work he has been doing since he started in the administration,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday.

After the memo’s release, White House officials worked to identify a way for Kushner to continue working on his portfolio of issues — including on the Middle East and China — that would avoid forcing Trump to personally intervene.

The aforementioned POLITICO story (“Kushner loses access to top-secret intelligence“) is more emphatic:

Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access.

Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The SCI acronym stands for sensitive compartmented information, a category of information that comes from sensitive intelligence sources and must be walled off.

The memo was not signed by chief of staff John Kelly, but it comes as the retired Marine general and other top White House aides are grappling with the fallout of a scandal involving former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, which revealed that dozens of White House aides had yet to receive permanent clearances but nonetheless had access to some of the country’s deepest secrets.

The president has the ability to grant Kushner a permanent clearance, but Trump said Friday — the same day the memo was sent — that he was leaving the decision to his chief of staff.

Late night comedians are, not surprisingly, having a field day.  ABC (“Kushner mocked after news of security downgrade“):

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, who once criticized Kushner as being “unqualified” to be in charge of “really important stuff” in the White House, downplayed the news in his monologue.

It basically means that “Kushner will have access to only nine herbs and spices,” he said, referring to the famous 11-ingredient KFC recipe. “Of course the last two are salt and fried salt.”

“How will he fix the Middle East now?” Colbert added. “He was so close to starting.”

Over on “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah used the news as a chance to take a swipe at the president’s controversial Twitter habits.

“Oh, that sucks,” Noah said, after sharing the report with his audience. “Now Kushner will have to learn about the nation’s most-sensitive secrets just like the rest of us, and wait for Trump to tweet them.”

“It has to be so humiliating for Kushner to have top-level clearance for a year and then you lose it. That never happens,” Noah added.

Really, it’s Trump, not Kushner, who should be the butt of the jokes here. As noted recently, I find the whole thing feckless and cowardly. The President has every right to be advised by whomever he wants and to trust them with any secrets he has a mind to. But he should stand up and own the consequences.

Further, as national security lawyer Susan Hennessey rightly notes, “Trump can show Jared whatever he wants, regardless of clearance. Reporters should be diligent in pushing for whether Kushner will have actual access to TS classified material in future (especially on ad hoc loophole basis), regardless of clearance status.” So long as he’s in his senior advisor post, I can’t imagine he won’t have access. And, indeed, even if he’s ousted from the post, I’d imagine Trump would share information with him so long as he remains in the circle of trust.

UPDATE:  See also, “Foreign Governments Sought to Exploit Kushner’s Overseas Business Arrangements.”

FILED UNDER: National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But but but HILLARY! E-MAILS!!!

  2. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I continue to think Hillary’s wanton disregard of handling procedures for classified information was problematic. That Trump’s handling is even worse doesn’t change that.

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  3. Mark Ivey says:

    Jared Kushner’s FSB handler is not happy right now..

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    The President has every right to be advised by whomever he wants and to trust them with any secrets he has a mind to. But he should stand up and own the consequences.

    Your over the top reaction to Hillary’s e-mail practices (which mirrored her predecessors) not with standing, you should own up to the obvious fact that that there are no consequences for the trump admins actions in regards to intel security. Share intelligence reports with the Russian Foreign Secretary in the Oval Office? Just another day in the WH.

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  5. KM says:

    Further, as national security lawyer Susan Hennessey rightly notes, “Trump can show Jared whatever he wants, regardless of clearance. Reporters should be diligent in pushing for whether Kushner will have actual access to TS classified material in future (especially on ad hoc loophole basis), regardless of clearance status.”

    If I understood that correctly, POTUS can grant specific situational / individualized Need To Know to anyone he damn well pleases whenever. While I can see the usefulness of the concept in theory, in practice it means Trump can blurt out whatever classified info his brain randomly farts out to anybody and he’s covered legally. That’s….. extremely problematic for a man with chronic verbal/ twitter diarrhea and potential senility .

    I get not wanting to restrict future President’s abilities to act but this one seems a little unbalanced. What checks are in play here should Trump spill beans to someone he really, really shouldn’t?

  6. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Your over the top reaction to Hillary’s e-mail practices (which mirrored her predecessors)

    She at least had control over the servers. Colin Powell used an AOL account, for fvck’s sake. And then deleted everything when he left.

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  7. CSK says:

    I can’t see how this will change anything. Certainly there’s some public embarrassment for Kushner, but given his level of arrogance and self-satisfaction, that won’t last long. Kelly has no ability to enforce this decision; he can’t hover over Trump and Kushner 24/7.

    Trump will do what he pleases, and if that entails providing access to Kushner, he will.

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    But you missed the most important part of this whole affair by far…

    Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, 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.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/kushners-overseas-contacts-raise-concerns-as-foreign-officials-seek-leverage/2018/02/27/16bbc052-18c3-11e8-942d-16a950029788_story.html?utm_term=.9ee8be2b471a
    You could easily substitute Trumps name for Kushners and this would still be a believable statement.
    And you’re still ranting about Clinton’s server??? LMFAO
    It’s becoming more and more apparent that even if these Keystone Kops didn’t knowingly collude with Russia, it is highly likely they were unwittingly duped into doing Russia’s bidding…and obviously they continue to do so. And, in my opinion, that is far scarier than if they had actually colluded.

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  9. Kathy says:

    If Kushner finds he needs to beg Trump for access to information vital to his job, that could be very bad. He might have to interrupt the Orange Clown while he’s playing golf.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Mikey:

    Your over the top reaction to Hillary’s e-mail practices (which mirrored her predecessors) not with standing, you should own up to the obvious fact that that there are no consequences for the trump admins actions in regards to intel security.

    As I’ve explained repeatedly, 2001 and 2009 are light years apart in Internet time. Powell took over a State Dept that essentially had no Internet connectivity and immediately started fixing the problem. Clinton entered a Dept that was much further advanced and at a completely different state of awareness of how Internet security worked.

    As to the second point, that Trump is completely untrustworthy with the national security apparatus was a major reason why I opposed him so vigorously starting with his descent from the escalator. Why I endorsed and voted for Hillary, despite all her flaws, with him as the alternative. All I’m doing here is stating the facts: Now that he’s POTUS, he’s the ultimate decider on all these things unless he’s impeached. That’s scary as hell but inherent in the system.

    @KM:

    What checks are in play here should Trump spill beans to someone he really, really shouldn’t?

    Impeachment and the 25th Amendment, neither of which are likely. That’s why you don’t elect compromised narcissists President.

    @CSK:

    Trump will do what he pleases, and if that entails providing access to Kushner, he will.

    Yup. I believe that was my point.

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    But you missed the most important part of this whole affair by far… […] And you’re still ranting about Clinton’s server???

    I not only didn’t miss it but I blogged about it ten minutes later and added an update to this post linking it two hours before you commented. And I haven’t posted anything about Clinton’s server since the election, at least; I was simply responding to another commenter—and noted in that comment that I think the current situation is worse than what Clinton did.

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  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    But you missed the most important part of this whole affair by far…

    Sorry…hadn’t yet seen the other related thread.
    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/foreign-governments-sought-to-exploit-kushners-overseas-business-arrangements/

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner: Just for the sake of conversation, could you assign a value or place on a sliding-scale the two facts of Mrs Clinton’s personal server with Mr Trump’s hosting Mr Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak in the Oval Office?

    I mean in a world where reasonable people accept that there are no perfect choices….

  13. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Or bang on Trump’s bedroom door at 6:30 p.m. when Trump’s locked himself in there with Fox News and a bag of Big Macs.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Just for the sake of conversation, could you assign a value or place on a sliding-scale the two facts of Mrs Clinton’s personal server with Mr Trump’s hosting Mr Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak in the Oval Office?

    I’m not sure how to rank these, to be honest. I’d rate Clinton’s email scandal something like a 3/10 on the natsec dangerousness level and an 8/10 on sheer arrogance and disregard for the rules. It was politically stupid and sent a dangerous message to subordinates and subjected classified information to getting intercepted. That was not good.

    A President meeting senior officials from another government in the Oval is fairly routine. The problem is that, because he won’t release his taxes, we have no idea of the extent of his business dealings with Russia. The overall web of Trump and associate links to Russia is staggering but, until the Mueller investigation goes deeper, we don’t know how much. But, certainly, we’ve already seen that several people high on his team were at least potentially blackmailable. That’s already at least a 5/10 and could go much higher.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner: As so often, thank you for the reply.

    Of course, we disagree.

    In an first draft of that comment I asked how far on the sliding scale one would go before sliding into ‘treason’. Which is the question in my mind.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @JohnMcC: While Russia is an adversarial power, it’s not an acknowledged enemy, so I don’t think “treason” as defined by the US Constitution (“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. “) is in play. Ditto the US Code definition (“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason”).

    Beyond that, it’s just hard to say where all this goes. It seems that half Trump’s team has dubious connections to Russia. That’s not a coincidence. But I don’t really have any good idea where it all goes–and am not sure at this point that it’s any worse than the open corruption that we’ve seen since Day 1.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: I believe it was Bertrand Russell who said that statements on morality should not contain proper nouns.
    The George W. Bush White House ‘Lost’ 22 Million Emails administration work emails hosted on the RNC server FFS.

  18. Zachriel says:

    @James Joyner: I continue to think Hillary’s wanton disregard of handling procedures for classified information was problematic. That Trump’s handling is even worse doesn’t change that.

    Email is not considered secure for classified information, whether dotcom or dotgov. Clinton extensively used the secure State Department intranet for classified information. That some classified information leaks into email is very common.