Jared Kushner's Security Clearance Gets Downgraded, According To Reports

Feb 27, 2018
Originally published on February 27, 2018 9:01 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It appears that White House senior adviser and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is getting a downgrade. Multiple reports today say that Kushner and other White House staff are having their top secret security clearances reduced. This comes in the wake of the resignation of a top staffer whose security clearance was held up over accusations of domestic violence that emerged during his background check. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House with more. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So Jared Kushner losing his temporary top secret clearance and getting just a secret clearance - what does that mean?

LIASSON: It means he can't read the presidential daily brief. It means he won't have access to certain kinds of highly classified information, intelligence that reveals sources and methods or reveals human sources of intelligence. And we know that Kushner has asked to see more classified information than most other White House aides. It also means that on a practical level, if the head of the CIA comes over to brief the president on top-secret information, Jared Kushner could be asked to leave the room.

Now, there was a memo last week from chief of staff John Kelly, who made this decision, said Jared Kushner's ability to do his job will not be affected. But others have suggested that it would be very difficult for Kushner to continue overseeing the Middle East peace process, relations with Mexico and China, many, many parts of Kushner's responsibilities without top secret clearance.

SHAPIRO: This controversy at the White House has been going on for several weeks over security clearances and classified information. Why is this decision coming now?

LIASSON: Well, the decision is coming now because the White House got into trouble because of the Rob Porter episode, the former White House staff secretary who, as you said, was also under a temporary security clearance. And then it was exposed his security clearance had been held up because two of his former wives accused him of domestic violence. At that point we learned that dozens of White House aides were in the same position, working with interim clearances like Jared Kushner.

And in the course of the last year, Kushner has had to revise and amend his security clearance form many times. He neglected to list contacts with foreign officials. In the past White Houses, just those omissions would have denied someone a security clearance. But we also know that Jared Kushner is one of the people under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Another thing that might have forced this decision is that tomorrow is the deadline that House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy has given to the White House to turn over information about the security clearance process. Clearly this move is a first step.

SHAPIRO: Could President Trump create a carve out for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, if he wanted to?

LIASSON: Yes, he could give him a waiver. But last week the president said that he's going to let John Kelly, the chief of staff, make this decision. He said, no doubt Kelly will make the right decision. So at least for the moment, Trump is letting Kelly be the boss.

SHAPIRO: What does this say about Jared Kushner's future as a White House adviser, a senior aide to the president?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. We've heard reports that there have been clashes between John Kelly and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter. And we've heard that Kelly wouldn't mind if they weren't there. Today Jared and Ivanka's spokesperson - yes, they had their own spokesperson - Josh Raffel announced that he was going to go back to New York, re-enter the private sector.

But there are no indications at this time that Jared Kushner and Ivanka plan to leave the White House. All we know is his security clearance has been downgraded. One of his top aides - actually there two top aides of Kushner's who are leaving. And for the moment, his role in the White House has been curtailed.

SHAPIRO: And as it has been reported, Jared Kushner was not the only person at the White House operating under a temporary security clearance. Is this likely to go wider than just Jared Kushner?

LIASSON: Yes. I mean, John Kelly now has to decide what he's going to do about all those other people. All of them, by the way, have been treated the same as Jared Kushner. They've all been downgraded to secret. But what happens over time - presumably it was going to take a very long time, if ever, for Jared Kushner to get a clearance. And that might be the case with many of these other people, and John Kelly just has to figure out what to do with them.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson speaking with us from the White House. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.