President Donald Trump passes his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Friday he will leave it to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to settle a security clearance dispute involving son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner, but left little doubt he wants the case settled in a way that allows Kushner to keep his job.
Kushner’s ability to lead a US effort to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could be affected by new White House rules on access to classified information, Trump said.
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior policy adviser, has been running a small team out of the West Wing that is drafting a comprehensive plan for achieving Middle East peace – one of the president’s primary foreign policy goals. Their plan is almost complete, Nikki Haley, the administration’s envoy to the UN, said earlier last week.
But under investigation by federal prosecutors in the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Kushner’s communications with foreign governments during the 2016 presidential campaign and Trump’s transition to the presidency, Kushner has yet to receive his full security clearance. He has instead been operating on an interim clearance while handling highly classified intelligence, including the presidential daily brief.
Current and former US officials tell The Jerusalem Post
that the position of US peace envoy requires not only the handling of classified information on a daily basis, but also the creation of classified material.
While the FBI vets all White House staff to ensure they can be trusted to handle such information, the president has the power to override the judgment of federal law enforcement. Asked whether he would do so if Kushner’s clearance were denied, Trump demurred, deferring to Kelly to make the final call.
But he noted the importance of Kushner’s portfolio – Middle East peace – and suggested that Kelly’s ultimate decision should take into account his work.
“Jared Kushner is right in the middle of that,” Trump said on Friday. “He is an extraordinary deal-maker. If he does that, that will be an incredible accomplishment and a very important thing for our country.”
Kushner is doing “an outstanding job,” Trump added, despite having “been treated very unfairly.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Kushner’s work “will not be impacted” by Kelly’s new rules, implemented after the White House staff secretary, Rob Porter, was forced out of his office after allegations of domestic abuse against his ex-wives went public. The staff secretary is required to handle some of the president’s most highly classified documents, but Porter was operating on an interim clearance, as law enforcement feared that his past with his wives left him open to blackmail.
Kelly, in a statement, said that Kushner’s work on Middle East peace would not be affected by the new policy, which allows only those with full clearances to see classified information.
“The new policy announced by General Kelly will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president,” Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said last week.
Reuters contributed to this report.