White House senior adviser Jared Kushner delivers remarks on the Trump administration's approach to the Middle East region at the Saban Forum in Washington, US, December 3, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)
WASHINGTON – Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser – who is leading White House efforts to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – is fighting to retain his access to highly classified information.
Kushner remains on an interim security clearance because of “issues raised by the FBI during their background checks,” The New York Times reported this week.
Following standard protocol, the administration will not publicly acknowledge the clearance status of any particular individual. But CNN reported earlier this month that dozens of White House officials have yet to receive full clearances from federal law enforcement.
Rob Porter, one such person on an interim clearance, was forced out of his job as White House staff secretary once allegations of domestic abuse against his ex-wives surfaced in public. After that, the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, moved to strip anyone with an interim clearance of access to highly classified intelligence – a move he plans to enforce beginning on Friday.
That would theoretically affect access for Kushner, who for the past year has read the president’s daily intelligence brief on a regular basis. But Kelly said in a statement that his administrative changes will not affect Kushner’s ability to lead Trump’s Mideast peace effort.
“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 in a statement.
“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,” he said.
It is unclear what security status Kushner requires to work at a high level on the Middle East peace process. But several former officials from Republican and Democratic administrations have raised concerns over his ability to do his job without top secret clearance.
“To do this particular job without a security clearance is extraordinarily difficult; just by definition, you’re coming into contact with classified information every single day, and much of the material the US team generates is classified material,” one former senior US official told The Jerusalem Post
Aaron David Miller, who served as a senior adviser on Israeli-Arab peace to US secretaries of state from 1988 to 2003, wrote on Twitter that “based on years in biz, doing Arab-Israeli negotiations requires access to top secret and codeword 411” – referring to code-word information out of reach of even those with permanent, top-secret security clearances.
But in an interview with the Post last summer discussing this topic, Alan Dershowitz, a prominent scholar of constitutional and criminal law who knew Kushner when he was a student at Harvard, said the FBI’s clearance process was a traditional procedural hurdle – not a legal one.
Federal law enforcement agencies conduct extensive background checks on White House staff to ensure that they can be trusted with the government’s secrets, and are not susceptible to blackmail by foreign powers.
But “the president has the authority to do whatever he chooses in terms of security – it is a presidential decision in the end,” Dershowitz said. “So if the president chooses to give [Kushner] access to Middle East information, he will get that access.”