Part of the reason he won the presidency is because the other party’s candidate didn’t take seriously her duty to keep a tight lid on state secrets. So … now we’re going to go ahead and loop the Trump kids in on what Special Ops is doing in Syria?
I don’t begrudge him the counsel of his children. But how much say is Donald Trump Jr going to have over American national security policy that he needs cabinet-level clearance to be able to participate appropriately? Or is this something Trump’s staff is worried about because they fear the big guy won’t be able to resist spilling secrets, intentionally or not, when he’s chatting with family and they want to avert an inevitable scandal — like this — about him sharing info with people who haven’t been cleared?
The Trump team has asked the White House to explore the possibility of getting his children the top secret security clearances. Logistically, the children would need to be designated by the current White House as national security advisers to their father to receive top secret clearances. However, once Mr. Trump becomes president, he would be able to put in the request himself.
His children would need to fill out the security questionnaire (SF-86) and go through the requisite background checks.
While nepotism rules prevent the president-elect from hiring his kids to work in the White House, they do not need to be government officials to receive top secret security clearances.
What makes this doubly weird is that, at last check, Team Trump is still insisting that his children will manage his business interests rather than transfer them to a blind trust to avert conflicts of interest. As dubious as it would be for Trump to be setting policy while in daily contact with the people in charge of his extensive international holdings, it’s much worse if Ivanka et al. have security clearances that would give them nonpublic knowledge that might benefit the businesses. For instance, if Trump has real estate in the UAE and the Trump kids discover that there’s a developing terrorist threat there, and they decide to sell that property because of it, they’ve used secret national intelligence made available to them by their father to avoid a financial loss for the family. It’s as far from a blind trust as you can get: Instead of the managers of Trump’s wealth being completely independent of him, they’d be exploiting him to see things on the global financial landscape that they otherwise never would have known. It’ll be a “superhuman-sight trust,” not a blind trust. And even if they’re scrupulous somehow about keeping business and government separate, just by pure chance they may end up selling assets or buying assets in a place that later coincidentally turns out to be strongly affected by some Trump administration policy. The public will assume corruption even if it’s not there, which will damage Trump. For the sake of his own credibility, he should stick with a blind trust. But he probably won’t.
And of course, loyal Republicans will defend him if he doesn’t because Trump. Case in point: Here’s the would-be Attorney General of the United States, an office that’s supposed to be a stickler for propriety in all things, shrugging off any conflict-of-interest concerns about Trump’s properties like a two-bit crony.
Giuliani noted in his Sunday morning interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president is not required by law to use a blind trust and that allowing the three children, all of whom are executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization, to run the company would be acceptable.
“It would seem to me that if he set up a situation in which the children were running it, there was a legal or clear document that meant that he would not be involved, he would have no interest in it, he would have no input into it, he would just have a passive interest, that would be the kind of thing that would work here,” the close Trump adviser said.
“It’s kind of unrealistic to say, you’re going to take the business away from the three people who are running it, and give it to some independent person.”
It’s not unrealistic. It’s what presidents do routinely. If Trump is willing to talk to his kids about top-secret matters of national intelligence, he’s obviously going to talk to them about his business holdings. And unless he’s taping every conversation he has, there’d be no way to prove that he hasn’t. The “document” Giuliani describes isn’t worth anything. This is what I was getting at on Thursday about how early signals sent by Trump will determine how much of a benefit of the doubt he gets next year from the majority of the country that’s skeptical of him. His gracious victory speech was a good sign. Picking Priebus over Bannon for chief of staff was a good sign. What he said last night about hate crimes was a good sign. Wanting top-secret clearance for the kids while demanding that they also be allowed to manage his wealth isn’t a good sign. That’s caudillo behavior.
Speaking of Giuliani and cabinet positions, by the way, the buzz late this afternoon is that he and John Bolton are finalists for Secretary of State. Bolton has diplomatic experience, so that makes sense; Rudy … does not, so it’s not clear why he’s in contention apart from the fact, I assume, that he really wants the job. Bolton would be an interesting choice in that he’s very hawkish but also pro-NATO, and hasn’t been shy about criticizing Trump for taking the opposite position. He’s had a folk-hero image among conservatives for the past 10 years because of his strong opinions about the UN and the fact that Democrats mobilized to block his appointment as UN ambassador, so choosing him would be popular. Whether you think he’s likely to be a positive or negative influence on Trump depends, though, on whether you think Trump is more a dove at heart or a hawk. If you think he’s too prone to isolationism, especially as regards NATO, having Bolton in a position of influence will be a welcome, and even necessary, corrective. If you think he’s too prone to responding belligerently to threats, having Bolton there egging him on to show strength might be … not so good. But then, you’ll run into the same problem no matter whom Trump appoints. A dovish Secretary of State could lead to dangerous passivity if Trump ends up being more dovish in governing than hawkish. These are the fumbling-in-the-dark calculations you’re left making when the president is mostly a black box on policy.
Update: And here’s the formal denial by a Trump official, who evidently asked not to be identified — although this sounds like less of a “he’d never do this” than a “it’s not top priority right now.”
Despite reports suggesting the contrary, a transition team official says Donald Trump did not request or begin paperwork to have his children gain top-level security clearance, according to a pool report.
The official told the pool of reporters Monday that it wasn’t something he was expecting right now.