Source: Some White House staff worry Kushner security clearance in jeopardy
Posted July 18
Concerns over the fate of Jared Kushner's final security clearance have begun to creep into the West Wing.
Little more than a week after Kushner and his brother-in-law's meeting with a Russian lawyer last summer became the focus of allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, White House officials are concerned that Kushner may not be granted a final security clearance, an administration official told CNN on Monday.
The FBI doesn't make a recommendation about whether an individual should receive a security clearance, but conducts an investigation and sends its findings to the White House, where a staff level decision is made.
"Mr. Kushner has tried to be fully transparent and responsive in the background investigations process. We have heard no expression of concern from the FBI, and I think we would know if there were such concerns at this time," Jamie Gorelick, Kushner's attorney, said on Tuesday.
Donald Trump Jr. dominated headlines last week amid revelations he met with the Russian lawyer because he believed she would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
Now, Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, is coming under scrutiny as well. Unlike the other meeting participants, Kushner is a top US government official, serving as one of the most senior White House aides.
Top Democrats are calling for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. Even Republicans have raised questions about omissions and subsequent updates to the official form Kushner submitted to obtain a security clearance.
So where does Kushner stand? Here's a look at the latest information.
How did Kushner get wrapped up in this latest controversy?
Soon after Trump Jr. got an email in June 2016 offering him incriminating information on Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," he scheduled a meeting with someone described as a "Russian government attorney," according to the emails Trump Jr. released.
Then, he invited then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Kushner to join him for the meeting. Kushner attended the meeting. Other participants have said little relevant information on Clinton was provided and the meeting instead focused on a Russian adoption ban.
Kushner disclosed the meeting to the FBI in an amended version of the SF-86 form, which is required to obtain a security clearance on June 21.
That submission was the third time Kushner updated his SF-86 form -- following a previous update earlier this spring when Kushner added about 100 foreign contacts to the disclosure form.
Does Kushner have a security clearance already?
As a top White House official, Kushner was granted an interim security clearance.
Kushner met with the FBI on June 23 to be interviewed for his permanent security clearance -- two days after amending his SF-86 form for a third time.
The White House has refused to comment on the status of Kushner's security clearance.
"We don't discuss security clearances," White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a briefing last week.
What's the review process like?
The FBI is responsible for running the security clearance investigation on top White House officials.
Once that investigation has concluded, the FBI delivers its findings to the White House.
But the FBI doesn't make a judgment on whether an official's security clearance should be approved or denied. That's left up to the White House, which reviews the FBI's findings and makes a determination on approving the clearance.
Does President Trump get a say?
The President doesn't typically weigh in on security clearances of any government official.
But as head of the executive branch, he does have the authority to reverse a White House staff-level decision on Kushner's security clearance.
"There's no doubt that the President can authorize him even if a decision were made that this meeting shouldn't have happened or even if there were various improper activities," said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "It is still within the power of the President to grant the clearance."
But reversing the decision of an apolitical security clearance review would result in an earthquake of political backlash, leaving Trump and the White House further damaged for the sake of one official's security clearance.
Could Kushner continue to work at the White House without a security clearance?
He could, but not at the high level he currently operates.
As senior adviser to the President, Kushner is one of the most powerful and influential officials in the Trump White House.
Without a security clearance, Kushner -- who is almost always in the room for the most sensitive discussions -- would be locked out of a slew of the most important deliberations inside the West Wing.
And the lack of a security clearance would hamstring Kushner's work on the many of foreign policy issues he has adopted under his purview, from Middle East peace to helping to broker arms deals with Gulf nations.
How are Kushner and the White House responding to the controversy?
A source close to Kushner said his legal team sees no basis under which Kushner's security clearance would be denied. Kushner has had two interviews with the FBI regarding his clearance, including a meeting on June 23 after he updated his SF-86 with the details of the meeting with Trump Jr., the Russian lawyer and others at Trump Tower.
Kushner's team does not believe they will have to make any additional updates to his SF-86 form. His attorney recently explained the myriad of updates, saying in a statement: "As we have previously stated, Mr. Kushner's SF-86 was prematurely submitted and, among other errors, did not list any contacts with foreign government officials. The next day, Mr. Kushner submitted supplemental information stating that he had had 'numerous contacts with foreign officials' about which he would be happy to provide additional information."
Gorelick said: "He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows."
Sanders, the White House's No. 2 spokesperson, also slammed calls for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked as partisan politics.
"I think Democrats are trying to play political games," she said. "And I think it's ridiculous."
Kushner security clearance timeline
January 18: His attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said the "premature draft" was "mistakenly submitted" without the proper review. January 19: Gorelick explained that the next day -- the day before the inauguration -- Kushner submitted supplemental information to the FBI. That included a statement saying that, "during the campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the President-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity ... I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts." April 6: CNN reports that Kushner has yet to detail to the federal government all of his foreign contacts, a condition of receiving his top secret security clearance. May 11: Earlier this spring, Kushner had amended his SF-86 form submitted to the FBI as part of his security clearance application. At that time, in their second revision to the original form, the Kushner lawyers listed about 100 foreign contacts. But they did not list the June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer. Yahoo has reported Kushner amended his form on May 11. Before June 21: Two sources told CNN it was Kushner's team that discovered the emails showing Donald Trump Jr. accepted a meeting at Trump Tower with a lawyer who was presented as a Russian government lawyer able to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Kushner's lawyers were preparing documents to turn over to Senate Intelligence Committee investigators, and the email discovery created another problem for them. June 21: Kushner's lawyers provided an amended SF-86 to the FBI, their third such change, to list the meeting with the Russian lawyer. June 23: Kushner met with the FBI to be interviewed for his security clearance.