The Trump administration might have some op-sec issues early in its war with the House Democrats and their new majority. Earlier this week, the White House flatly refused to hand over documents demanded by the House Oversight Committee about the process of granting top-secret clearances to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Calling the request “unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone declared that the administration “will not concede the Executive’s constitutional prerogatives or allow the Committee to jeopardize the individual privacy rights of current and fo1mer Executive Branch employees.”
No problem, according to Axios. Oversight already had the documents, thanks to a leak from within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
From a White House source, the House Oversight Committee has obtained documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s security clearances that the Trump administration refused to provide, according to a senior Democratic aide involved in handling the documents.
- The twist: But the House Oversight Committee in early February had already obtained the leaked documents that detail the entire process, from the spring of 2017 to the spring of 2018, on how both Kushner and Trump were ultimately granted their security clearances.
- The senior Democratic aide who was involved in handling the documents told Axios that two staffers on the Oversight Committee said the documents are “part of the puzzle that we would be asking for” from the White House, “so we appreciate having this upfront.”
We hadn’t heard much lately about White House leakers, a key frustration in the early days of the Donald Trump presidency. It led to the embarrassing Anthony Scaramucci fortnight and Reince Priebus’ departure, along with a few other early departures. Since John Kelly came on board, the leak front quieted down to a more normal level … or so we thought, anyway.
This will create at least two new problems for Trump in this session of Congress. The most acute will be dealing with the specific issues of these two clearances, assuming there are issues with which to deal. We know that Kushner’s clearance had to be downgraded to secret for some reason almost exactly a year ago, a decision made by Kelly himself. Alexi McCammond reports that one document describes it as a decision made “out of an abundance of caution,” but something had to trigger a downgrade of the access for the president’s point man on Middle East peace, not to mention his son-in-law.
The bigger problem is the leak itself. If it’s someone currently in the White House, Trump can’t be assured that any of his communications will be safe from the House Democrats’ prying eyes, not even those with legitimate executive privilege. Needless to say, that’s a bad situation for any president, but it’s an acute and serious danger for a president facing an impeachment-happy House majority. The White House might have to conduct a massive mole hunt of the kind they tried with The Mooch in 2017, and that will be seriously disruptive to all of their operations.
There’s another possibility here, though one that would be intrigue on nearly a Machiavellian level. The White House might have deliberately leaked the Jared/Ivanka materials to Oversight through a lower-level staffer posing as a whistleblower. If Trump and WH counsel are convinced they did no wrong but were afraid to set a precedent on privilege and privacy by complying with the demand, a leak would solve the problem. They could give Oversight the nothingburger documents they demanded while refusing to comply, allowing the issue to die off quietly. Call that the “John Barron by proxy” option.
For now, we can just watch to see what happens next to figure out what happened last. If we stop hearing about the Jared/Ivanka security-clearance issue, chalk one up for Trump’s eight-dimensional chess skills. If on the other hand we start seeing people flood out of the White House — or the Return Of The Mooch — batten down the hatches.