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Jared Kushner's security clearance downgraded

Jared Kushner's security clearance downgraded

Comes after months of delays in completing exhaustive background check
Jared Kushner's security clearance downgraded
Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, looks on Feb. 13, 2018.
Photographer: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been stripped of his high-level security clearance after months of delays in completing an exhaustive background check, limiting his ability to view highly classified information, a White House official and another person familiar with Kushner’s situation said.

Kushner’s top-secret clearance was reduced to secret and his portfolio, especially with regard to his conduct of foreign affairs on behalf of President Donald Trump, is expected to contract sharply as well in the days ahead, the people said Tuesday. The change in his clearance was first reported by Politico.

The decision comes after John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, recently moved to overhaul the security clearance process at the White House after the resignation of Rob Porter, Trump’s staff secretary, amid allegations of spousal abuse.

RELATED: Kushner's overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage

Porter and Kushner were among dozens of top White House officials who had been operating on interim security clearances for many months because of issues completing their FBI background checks. Kelly said in a memo this month that he would revoke top clearances for anyone whose background check had been pending since June 1 or earlier, beginning last Friday.

Officials have not said what has held up Kushner’s background check, though extensive contacts with foreign officials are usually scrutinized closely by the FBI. And Kushner’s meetings with foreign leaders and multiple business ventures could be relevant to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The issue of Kushner’s clearance has led to a continuing clash with Kelly. Kushner has pressed to keep his top-level access to some of the United States’ most sensitive classified material. That access has allowed him to view the presidential daily brief, the summary of intelligence that is given to the president every day.

Armed with that access, Kushner served as a high-level envoy to leaders around the world, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia, and is the top White House adviser charged with negotiating peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He has also focused on trade issues with Mexico and China.

Kushner has also led domestic policy initiatives, including technology innovation and prison reform, that typically do not require the kind of access to high-level secret information that a security clearance would provide. As scrutiny surrounding his clearance grew, the sense among White House officials was that Kushner would be less affected by his work on domestic policy, said one official who was familiar with the situation.

National security veterans in Washington said the loss of high-level clearance will be a hindrance when it comes to Kushner’s foreign policy role, particularly his ability to understand what the other players are thinking, including the Saudis, Iranians and others who are influential in the region.

“It makes an already difficult situation all the more difficult,” said Aaron David Miller, a former longtime State Department peace negotiator and now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Knowing stuff gave us an edge. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and now he cannot find out. That is a real liability when intelligence services are driving a lot of the information.”

The downgrade in Kushner’s clearance also raises questions about whether he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, might leave the White House to return to their private businesses in New York. Kushner’s allies have repeatedly said that the couple intends to remain in the White House as advisers to Trump.

Kushner is the highest-profile member of the administration to be affected by the new policy, and the White House has for weeks deflected questions about whether steps would be taken to address it. In a news conference last week, Trump said he would leave the issue of Kushner’s security clearance up to Kelly.

One official said that the action taken on Kushner’s clearance was a high-profile example of Kelly’s efforts to enforce his new policy surrounding interim clearances, and that he would hold all aides similarly accountable, no matter how senior or close to the president.

It is unclear whether the new policy might affect Ivanka Trump, who also serves in the West Wing as a senior adviser, a position which typically has clearance to view sensitive or classified material.

Josh Raffel, his spokesman, referred questions about the clearance issue to the White House press office, which declined to comment.

In a briefing for reporters earlier in the day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the status of Kushner’s clearance or that of other aides at the White House.

“I’ve been very clear that we don’t discuss security clearances,” she said. “And that’s not changing today, it didn’t change yesterday, it’s not going to change tomorrow, probably not going to change next week.”

Abbe D. Lowell, Kushner’s personal lawyer, declined to comment specifically on the changes in Kushner’s security clearance.

“Mr. Kushner has done more than what is expected of him in this process,” Lowell said in a statement. “Those involved in the process again have confirmed that there are dozens of people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for these clearance reviews to take this long in a new administration, and that the current backlogs are now being addressed. No concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner’s application.”

Lowell added that “as Gen. Kelly himself said, the new clearance policy will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.”

Government ethics groups that had long argued that Trump’s White House took a cavalier attitude to the handling of top secret information applauded Kushner’s clearance downgrade.

“We are glad that Kushner and the rest of the White House officials still on interim clearances have now lost access to top secret information,” said Noah Bookbinder, the director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had sent Kelly a complaint requesting that Kushner be stripped of his clearance.

“There continue to be serious questions as to the Trump administration’s handling of secure information; failure to at least downgrade Kushner’s temporary clearance would have set a dangerous precedent by signaling a willingness to tolerate unacceptable national security risks,” Bookbinder said in a statement.

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