White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is at odds with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, over Kushner’s ability to view classified information without a full security clearance.
Recently, Kelly has tried to limit access to sensitive information by White House aides who are operating with interim clearances. The West Wing boss implemented new restrictions after criticism of his handling of Rob Porter, the disgraced former staff secretary who was allowed to continue in his job even though the FBI had notified the White House of serious allegations of domestic abuse against him.
Like Porter, Kushner has had access to highly sensitive national security information despite possessing only an interim security clearance throughout his 13 months as a senior White House aide. He is the most prominent — and influential — among dozens of White House staffers who have not been granted full clearances because of issues raised in FBI background checks, reports The New York Times, citing administration officials briefed on the matter.
In the wake of the Porter scandal, Kelly is trying to reform the security clearance process in the White House, a process that involves stripping certain high-level officials of their access to classified information. Kelly sent a memo to White House staff on Friday, announcing he would discontinue Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access for interim clearance holders whose cases have been pending since June 1 or earlier.
Kelly’s reforms have irked Kushner, who believes the chief of staff is targeting him personally, according to TheNYT. Kushner is reluctant to give up his access to classified information, which allows him to review the President’s Daily Brief and other sensitive national security documents when he wants.
The disagreement over access to classified information is particularly awkward in Kushner’s case, given his close personal relationship to Trump and his expansive portfolio of foreign policy responsibilities, which include the Israel-Palestine conflict and economic talks with China, Mexico and NAFTA negotiators. The White House says Kushner’s work will not be affected by the new security clearance rules, which go into effect on Friday.
“Nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared is doing,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. “He continues and will continue to be a valued member of the team. He’ll continue to do the important work that he’s been focused on for the last year.”
It was not immediately clear if the White House would ensure Kushner’s access to classified information if he is not granted a clearance by the Friday deadline. Trump can use his executive authority to grant his son-in-law a permanent security clearance, a shortcut to the normal process run by theWhite House office of personnel security.
Kelly’s new security clearance framework affects only information at the Top Secret and SCI levels. Much of Kushner’s portfolio involves working with material with the less-sensitive Secret and Confidential designations.
In a statement, Kelly expressed confidence that Kushner would be able to continue his work as normal with the new restrictions in place.
“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly said. “Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the president’s agenda. There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise.”
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