That’s funny. McGahn hasn’t been a stickler about security clearances in the past.
A leftover from yesterday’s juicy Gabriel Sherman item about tension between Trump and John Kelly over Jared Kushner’s access to highly sensitive information:
According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has told advisers that he won’t fire John Kelly for the time being despite intense lobbying by son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka. “The president doesn’t have the balls to fire Kelly,” one Trump friend said…
[I]f Trump fired Kelly now, it would appear that the decision was made in part to benefit Kushner. On Monday, according to Kelly’s new rules for security clearances, Kushner would apparently have had his clearance revoked, but the White House declined to say whether this had occurred. Two sources said White House counsel Don McGahn has advised Trump he shouldn’t give Kushner a special waiver. Last week, Trump told reporters that Kushner’s clearance would “be up to General Kelly.” Kushner has been pushing behind the scenes to get Kelly removed. He’s told people that Kelly is partly responsible for having his security clearance held up. “Jared feels like he’s being slow-rolled by Kelly’s cronies,” a Kushner friend said. “He’s confident he has paperwork to get the clearance.”
Jared thinks it’s Kelly’s fault that he hasn’t been cleared yet? But … Kelly wasn’t named chief of staff until late last summer, long after Kushner started working in the White House. If he had the paperwork to get his clearance, he would have gotten it months ago like Gary Cohn did. Especially since everyone at the FBI understands that the president himself is eager to see Jared cleared.
Given how chill he was about Rob Porter’s lack of a full security clearance, I assume McGahn would be fine with Kushner continuing to operate at high levels without one as well if not for the politics the Porter situation has created for Trump. Granting Kushner a special waiver when the FBI refuses to sign off would be bad optics under any circumstances but doing it now after Kelly has (reluctantly) cracked down post-Porter on vulnerable aides accessing highly classified info would be atrocious. And Kushner’s a horrible candidate for special treatment. It would be one thing if Trump carved out an exemption for a supremely experienced but compromised advisor like David Petraeus, who might be semi-plausibly defended as too valuable not to have in the White House. But Kushner’s an example of pure, lurid nepotism, palpably lacking the credentials that would justify handing him the sort of portfolio Trump has, and he’s badly compromised by his foreign financial dealings. Granting him a special waiver to view the most sensitive U.S. intelligence when seemingly all the other relevant players in government are reluctant would stink on ice.
Still, Trump being Trump, he must be tempted. Which explains, I assume, this mini-bombshell from WaPo late yesterday afternoon:
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…
Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official.
“Officials from the UAE identified Kushner as early as the spring of 2017 as particularly manipulable because of his family’s search for investors in their real estate company,” claimed WaPo’s sources, whom the paper describes as “current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.” Hmmmm. The paper also notes that “H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report.” Double hmmmmm. McMaster is famously a close ally of John Kelly’s, one whom Sherman claims might be booted out as NSA by Trump in hopes of putting pressure on Kelly to resign. And this WaPo story appeared online within hours yesterday of news breaking that Kushner’s security clearance had been downgraded from “top secret” to “secret.” Triple hmmmmm.
Looks to me like the Kelly/McMaster team worried that Trump might reverse Kelly’s decision to downgrade Kushner’s clearance and tried to preempt him by sending out deputies to whisper to WaPo about why Kushner is suspect. The worse Kushner looks, the harder it’ll be politically for Trump to justify overruling Kelly and the FBI in giving him that waiver. What we’re seeing here, in other words, is a leak war at full tilt between Team Kelly and Team Javanka. That seems to have begun a few weeks ago, with Javanka trying to exploit the Porter fiasco to get Kelly fired allegedly because they resented Kelly limiting their access to Trump. Now Kelly’s trying to return the favor by making Kushner’s continued service at the White House a liability for Trump. “Javanka and Kelly are locked in a death match. Two enter. Only one survives,” said a White House official to Axios.
I wonder too if Team Javanka isn’t forging new alliances that might have seemed improbable in the past. Another tidbit from Sherman’s item:
The president has in recent days told Kelly that he can no longer bar Trump loyalists like Corey Lewandowski, Anthony Scaramucci, and Dave Bossie from the White House. Last week, as Axios reported, Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Kelly and Lewandowski. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, things got heated when Trump informed Kelly that he needed to “get along” with Lewandowski. After the meeting, Trump told Kelly that he wanted to “find a role“ for Lewandowski in the West Wing, a source briefed on the conversation said. Kelly, according to a source, replied that Lewandowski couldn’t pass a security clearance. Scaramucci’s return to the fold also represents something of a rebuke of Kelly, given that firing the Mooch was one of Kelly’s first moves as chief.
Ivanka Trump was reportedly a driving force in getting Lewandowski fired as campaign manager in 2016, but maybe now she’s rethinking that. Corey’s motto is “Let Trump be Trump”; he’s a yes man, and as such would never tell Trump or his kids that they can’t see each other during the day whenever they want. Corey would also obviously owe Jared and Ivanka greatly if they helped land him a job in the West Wing. Javanka may be willing to make a devil’s bargain with Lewandowski: They’ll try to advance him within Trump’s inner circle, possibly up to and including the job of chief of staff eventually, and in return he’ll be their boy. He’ll stay out of their way and he’ll make sure they have whatever they need, including security clearances. The Corey/Javanka alliance may be the next episode of Trump’s “Game of Thrones.”
Two exit questions for you. One: Rick Wilson is right that even if Kushner were to leave the White House, “[w]hat he knows after a year in this position makes him the juiciest intelligence target in the world.” How is U.S. intelligence planning to make sure he doesn’t get chatty with those mysterious “foreign officials” he’s been talking to in return for some helpful investments in his family’s properties? Two: When exactly did the “current and former U.S. officials” who spoke to WaPo find out that foreign diplomats were targeting Kushner? More importantly, when did McMaster find out that Jared was talking to foreign officials without coordinating with the NSC? The story is conspicuously coy about when, precisely, the suspicions around Kushner began to develop within the West Wing. Which is interesting, because Kushner’s lack of a full security clearance wasn’t a secret. It drew public attention recently only because Rob Porter’s similar situation led reporters to start asking who else in the West Wing might be vulnerable to blackmail due to their personal history. Jared was the most glaring example, yet he’s been operating without a full clearance for more than a year. If Kelly and McMaster knew that, or were capable of easily finding out, why did they wait so long to start whispering to the newspapers about foreign officials’ interest in Kushner?