Trump: I didn't request security clearances for my kids

Here’s the official rebuttal to this story from Monday night by the man himself:

That was part of a series of tweets (we’ve entered the age of the presidential tweetstorm) pushing back on too-bad-to-check stories in the media about the state of his transition process, from HuffPo claiming that Trump aides are asking Obama’s staff for recommendations on Republican hires to the NYT reporting that world leaders are having to dial in blindly to Trump Tower to speak to him because there’s no communications protocol in place yet. In reality, Trump insisted, the transition is going “so smoothly.” As for the clearances, an aide who spoke to ABC says it’s true that Trump himself didn’t request them. But someone inside the campaign did:

The Trump transition team is saying that a low-level staffer requested security clearances for three of Donald Trump’s children, according to a top aide.

According to the aide, the request was made “without authorization” and the staffer, who is no longer with the team, “overstepped his boundaries.”

Sources say the request was not made by the president-elect.

Hard to believe an unnamed “low-level staffer” would take it upon himself to push for security clearances for the inner circle without being asked to do so by someone more senior. Maybe the news that the kids were going to be looped in on security was considered unhelpful right now, given all of the stories flying around about a chaotic transition, and the subject was dropped, to be taken up again later at a more serene time.

How about Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, though? He’s not one of Trump’s children, and he’s become a key advisor to Trump. He was described during the campaign at times as a “shadow campaign manager,” so great was his influence. (He’s also allegedly “at the center of Trump transition ‘infighting'” and “has been rubbing allies the wrong way” in purging Chris Christie’s people, according to CNN and its sources inside the campaign.) Is Team Trump pushing for a security clearance for him? NBC claims they are:

Donald Trump has taken the unprecedented step of requesting his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, receive top-secret clearance to join him for his Presidential Daily Briefings, which began Tuesday.

Multiple sources tell NBC News Trump received his first briefing on Tuesday and designated both Kushner and Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn as his staff-level companions for the briefings going forward.

While Flynn has the necessary security clearance, Kushner does not, and it could take weeks — or even longer — for him to receive it.

Watch below and you’ll find Trump spokesman Jason Miller insisting that they haven’t sought clearances for any members of the family, Kushner included. He has good reason to say that: If he confirms it, Trump critics will argue that the federal law banning nepotism in hiring forbids it. Which might not be exactly true. Kushner could end up as an informal advisor to Trump rather than hold a paid position; the problem there, though, according to a natsec lawyer who spoke to NBC, is that “You can’t hold a security clearance as an informal advisor — there is no such concept.” Alternatively, Trump could flout the nepotism law and hire Kushner for a formal position, knowing that the chief penalty under the statute is merely to prohibit family hires from receiving a salary. That would pose no financial problem for Kushner or the Trump kids, but it might put Kushner’s formal authority on shaky ground. Per one law professor interviewed by CNN, “any action taken by such a wrongfully appointed employee could be subject to legal challenge and potentially even be voidable.” If he’s formally hired, there may be court battles. If he isn’t, he can’t get clearance. What’s a president to do?

Let’s approach this conundrum pragmatically, though. The point of withholding security clearances from family members and other intimates, I assume, is to discourage people who do hold clearances from discussing natsec matters with them. It’s a way to make sure those privy to sensitive information keep it closely held. If you know you can’t talk about Syria even with your adult children, it should, in theory, drive home to you how important absolute secrecy is. Does anyone think Trump will be a stickler about that with his kids and their spouses, though, given how important their counsel apparently is to him? This isn’t a case of dad blabbing about Iran over the dinner table; it’s a case of these seem to be the only people whom Trump trusts enough to confide in. If you think he’s destined to share secrets with them whether they’re cleared or not, then you should ask yourself whether it’s better for them to obtain formal clearances from the start. If nothing else, knowing that Ivanka has been cleared by U.S. intelligence to hear things about Syria will avert a scandal later if/when it turns out that she is in fact hearing things about Syria from dad. On the other hand, if Trump is serious about his inane idea to have his kids continue to manage his assets, it becomes even more dubious to grant the children security clearances than it is now. They shouldn’t have special nonpublic knowledge about international affairs when they’re managing a portfolio of international assets. By granting them clearances to avert one form of scandal, that Trump is destined to whisper to them about national security, you’d be enabling an even bigger one involving massive financial conflicts of interest.

Most of the angst about this, I think, has less to do with genuine fear that Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump will spill state secrets and more to do with the fact that these relatively unknown quantities, with no experience in statecraft, are suddenly going to have more influence over assessing and responding to international threats than, say, Stephen Hadley will. It’s not a question of whether Kushner can pass the background check, it’s anxiety that Trump has no one more knowledgeable around him that he’d rather bring with him to the daily security briefing apart from Mike Flynn. But whatever. America wanted a government with fewer experts and now they’re going to get one. Kushner knew what he was doing well enough during the campaign to help defeat the Clinton machine, didn’t he? Hopefully America’s national security will work out the same way.

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