Earlier last year, President Trump had asked his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to give his presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner a very secret security clearance, a decision that made Kelly so ill at ease. he was documenting his request in writing, according to current and former officials of the administration.
After Kushner, a White House advisor and his wife, Ivanka Trump, lobbied the president to grant permission to Kushner, Trump asked Kelly to fix the problem, according to a statement. nobody knows Kelly's story, who talked about the situation. anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Kelly told her colleagues that the decision to give Kushner a very secret clearance was not supported by career intelligence officers. He also memorized Trump's request in an internal memo, according to two people close to the memo and concerns of the chief of staff at the time.
It's unclear how Kelly reacted to Trump's directive. But in May, Kushner had obtained a permanent security clearance allowing him to view top secret information – a decision made after months of worry at the White House about his inability to gain that access.
Kushner's lawyer publicly described the process as having been followed by normal channels, a description that Kelly did not find accurate, according to one familiar with his reaction.
The former chief of staff, who left the administration early this year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump's efforts to obtain Kushner's authorization – and the chief of staff's concerns about this – were first reported by the New York Times, who also said that White House lawyer Donald McGahn was concerned about Kushner's permission.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to weigh Thursday night, saying, "We do not comment on security clearances."
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner's lawyer, Father Lowell, said in a statement: "In 2018, White House officials and security officials have claimed that the authorizations of Mr. Kushner's security were treated normally, without any pressure from anyone. "
"This was communicated to the media at the time, and the new stories, if true, do not change what was said at the time," he added.
A lawyer from McGahn declined to comment.
The congressional Democrats announced Thursday that they were considering aggressively reviewing Trump's role in getting Kushner's permission. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, indicated that his committee had already opened an investigation into the security clearance process at the White House and had not still not received a response to his request for documents.
"The Committee expects its requests to be fully fulfilled as soon as possible, otherwise it may be necessary to consider other means to compel them to comply", said Cummings in a statement.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Said in a statement Thursday night that his panel, along with the House's oversight committee, would continue their investigation into the process. security clearance from the White House.
"The revelation that President Trump personally intervened to overthrow White House security officials and the intelligence community by granting a secret security clearance to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the latest indication of total disregard for President for our national security for the men and women who sacrifice so much every day to protect us, "said Schiff." There is no nepotism exception for background investigations. "
Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, both publicly denied that the president was involved in obtaining an authorization from Kushner. In an interview on Jan. 31, the president told the New York Times that he had not ordered Kelly or similar officials to allow his son-in-law, and Ivanka Trump said told ABC News earlier this month that his father was not involved in the process.
During the first year of administration, Kushner obtained a temporary security clearance allowing him to view highly secretive and sensitive compartmentalized information, which constitutes classified information relating to sensitive sources. This designation allowed him to attend confidential briefings, access the President's daily intelligence report and make inquiries to the intelligence community.
But in the White House, the concern was great about his lack of permanent clearance.
In February 2018, Kelly restricted the access of employees with temporary security clearance to top secret information as a result of allegations of beatings against one of the key collaborators. Due to this new policy, Kushner's clearance has been reduced from "Top Secret / SCI" level to "Secret" level, a much lower level of access to classified information.
At that time, Trump had announced that he would return the issue of Kushner's access to his chief of staff.
"I will let General Kelly make that decision and he will do what is right for the country," said the president at a press conference. "And I do not doubt that he will make the right decision."
The very secret authorization granted to Kushner last year allowed him to access relatively basic classified information. Lowell had then stated that "Kushner's candidacy was properly submitted, examined by many career officials and subject to the usual procedure".
Kushner has not been given permission to view the most confidential information the government produces, known as Sensitive and Compartmentalized Information, or SCI, the Washington Post reported last July.
This meant that Kushner was effectively prevented from seeing information collected from human spies or from the vast government intelligence apparatus. This is the kind of information that forms the basis of the President's daily briefing on intelligence, which is usually given to policy makers and senior cabinet officials.
The fact that Kushner does not have access to SCI suggests that the CIA has not given permission for him to receive this level of intelligence, security experts said. He had a hard time getting even his very secret clearance, partly because of his contacts with some foreign government officials, The Post had already reported.
Some foreign officials, whose communications were intercepted by the US intelligence services, privately discussed how they could manipulate Kushner, taking advantage of his complex trading arrangements, financial difficulties that he had at the time. Period and its lack of experience in foreign policy, according to the current and the past. US officials know intelligence information on the issue, who spoke under the guise of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Kushner's impediments abroad have caused concern among US intelligence officials, who are ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not to receive SCI licenses, which is above the supreme secrecy, according to US officials familiar with internal deliberations.
The decision to grant SCI authorization is usually made by the body that generated the information. The CIA, for example, grants access to human information collected from agents and agents. The NSA allows access to intercepted communications and intelligence generated by spying on foreign computer networks.
Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.