Trump Leaves Kelly Twisting Over Kushner Clearance

The President's fecklessness here is incredible. Either take these people out of sensitive posts or take the responsibility for granting them waivers. 

President Trump has created an awkward situation regarding his son-in-law’s access to classified information.

President Donald Trump’s decision to punt the issue of whether Jared Kushner can keep his access to sensitive government secrets without a full security clearance to his chief of staff, John Kelly, has put him in a tricky position, stuck between the rules on one side and the president’s family on the other.

Trump’s ad hoc decision not to intervene in the clearance process on behalf of his son-in-law and senior adviser in effect left both Kelly and Kushner in limbo, prolonging an uncomfortable situation that White House aides say is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Kelly does not plan to recommend to the president that he grant Kushner a waiver, but he is unlikely to resign if Trump ultimately decides to do so, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

[…]

Trump has a better understanding of the wide-ranging extent of his power over the clearance process, aides say, which is virtually absolute. Through his executive power, he could solve Kushner’s clearance headache with the stroke of a pen.

The president is hesitant to intervene in the process due to the potential blowback he would suffer in the news media if he gives Kushner a pass, according to one White House aide, and on Friday, he officially passed the baton to Kelly.

“That’ll be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call,” Trump said at a news conference last week. “I won’t make that call. I will let the general…make that call.”

I’m less concerned than many Trump critics over Kushner’s access. While I happen to think he’s unqualified for a senior post in the White House, it’s well within the authority of the President to make that call. And, to my knowledge, he hasn’t been so much deemed a security risk—at least, not any more than the President himself—as much as his complex overseas business dealings make it next to impossible to clear him.

Trump’s fecklessness here, though, is incredible. Either take these people out of sensitive posts or take the responsibility for granting them waivers.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Presidency, Quick Takes, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies 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. al-Ameda says:

    I’m less concerned than many Trump critics over Kushner’s access. While I happen to think he’s unqualified for a senior post in the White House, it’s well within the authority of the President to make that call. And, to my knowledge, he hasn’t been so much deemed a security risk—at least, not any more than the President himself—as much as his complex overseas business dealings make it next to impossible to clear him.

    Trump’s fecklessness here, though, is incredible. Either take these people out of sensitive posts or take the responsibility for granting them waivers.

    This really is all on Kelly – he can do the right thing and tell the president that Jared has not been cleared therefore he’s not going to grant the highest level of clearance, or he can settle for more humiliation at the feet of this president.

    It comes down to how much pride Kelly has.
    Is he willing to walk away from his job?
    Is service to Trump worth wallowing in the mud pits?

    9
  2. Kathy says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Is service to Trump worth wallowing in the mud pits?

    It is a requirement for working in Trump’s administration, whether it be worth it or not.

    4
  3. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Trying to set up a private communications channel to the Kremlin through the Russian embassy would get someone looked at, hard, for a security clearance where I come from. YMMV

    11
  4. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Yes. But he presumably did it at the behest of the President-Elect, so it’s problematic only to the extent that the President himself is compromised—in which case clearing Kushner is really irrelevant.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’m sure all the Republicans outraged by Clinton’s e-mails will be equally outraged by this lackadaisical approach to security. /sarc

    8
  6. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner: Eh, I think Trump has denied that.
    NO COLLUSION!

    It’s hard to see why the President of the United States would do such a thing, but for this one it would be consistent with his inviting Russian officials to the Oval Office and excluding American press.

    3
  7. michael reynolds says:

    Kushner is in debt to his eyeballs. He’s already been caught lying – repeatedly – on his clearance forms. He tried to cut deals post-election with foreign companies and powers. He pushed for a back-channel to Russian mob money. He pushed for firing Comey. He’s a desperate man – with access to the PDB.

    There is in my opinion a non-trivial chance that he will be arrested for espionage. Not collusion, espionage.

    9
  8. CSK says:

    Trump knows his base doesn’t particularly care for Kushner. But he also doesn’t want to alienate Ivanka by dissing her hubby. What to do?

    Slough it off onto Kelly.

    6
  9. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    Trump eliminates anyone who has ever criticized him from consideration, so that’s what, 99% of potentially qualified applicants? Trump can’t get anyone competent to work for him. Who in his right mind would willingly walk into that snake pit? A rage-o-holic, abusive boss who will throw you under the bus whenever convenient? Undercut you publicly? Humiliate you without a second thought? All while demanding cultish devotion?

    We have almost full employment. In fact the only unemployed people now are Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus. Spicer’s unemployed and Priebus is riding the bench at his old law firm, ‘advising.’ Work for Trump and you lose your reputation.

    2
  10. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: That, to me, would seem to be the real reason Trump’s not granting a waiver. He wants to show Kelly who’s boss. Silly, isn’t it, the President of the United States feeling a need to humiliate a subordinate. I’ve worked in a couple of family owned companies and watched family members, with absolutely secure positions, play similar games to hold down non-family members. I guess it’s an unjustified sense of insecurity or they just like game playing.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    He’s already been caught lying – repeatedly – on his clearance forms.

    Yeah. It’s not so much that his overseas dealings are complicated as apparently everytime someone discovers another connection, another meeting, Kushner goes ‘Oh yeah, forgot that one’ and amends the form again. Rinse and repeat.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner: Gosh! You presume that Kushner’s query about a secret, secure channel directly to the Kremlin was some sort of cat’s paw of the PRESIDENT!

    Speechless.

    1
  13. Kathy says:

    Wanna bet Trump’s base would be ecstatic if the Jew got kicked out? And when the base expresses joy in antisemitic terms, Trump won’t call them out.

    1
  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Either take these people out of sensitive posts or take the responsibility for granting them waivers.

    You expect Trump to take responsibility? Yeah, sure, that’ll happen.

    And Rush Limbaugh used to complain about Bill Clinton’s avoidance of responsibility citing Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here” motto. Clinton looks positively Trumanesque by comparison.

  15. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Kushner isn’t just a Jew. In the base’s eyes, he’s a Manhattan Liberal Democrat Jew.

    @michael reynolds:

    Did you hear? Trump wants his personal pilot to head the FAA.

    2
  16. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “Yes. But he presumably did it at the behest of the President-Elect, so it’s problematic only to the extent that the President himself is compromised—in which case clearing Kushner is really irrelevant.”

    *Presumably* is doing some heavy lifting there, James.