In a move that represents a serious blow to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s standing in the West Wing, Politico reports that all White House aides working on the highest-level interim security clearance were informed on Friday that they will have their clearance downgraded from “Top Secret/SCI-level” to “secret” – walling them off from the most sensitive information.
Many had expected that Trump would grant Kushner a waiver, even though Trump himself said Friday that he would let Chief of Staff John Kelly decide if such an exception should be granted. Friday’s memo was not signed by Kelly.
The decision is the first major shakeup since the dismissal of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who was exposed for abusing both of his ex-wives. The FBI insinuated that it had informed the White House of Porter’s conduct, appearing to contradict a timeline of events initially offered by Kelly.
The White House has been reticent about the downgrade:
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on Kushner’s clearance status at a briefing Tuesday.
“We actually haven’t commented on Jared’s issue indicated, but we have commented on his ability to do his job. Which, he’s a valued member of the team and he will continue to do the important work that he’s been doing since he’s started in the administration.”
Kushner’s attorney said the downgrade wouldn’t impact Kushner’s ability to continue to do his job.
Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kushner “has done more than what is expected of him in this process.”
Lowell added that the changes would “not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.”
Indeed, media reports indicated that White House staffers were already exploring workarounds to help Kushner continue to handle his sizable West Wing portfolio – which includes several sensitive foreign policy issues – without having a top-level security clearance. Kelly also issued a statement last week saying any changes to security clearance wouldn’t impact Kushner’s ability to do his job.
“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 the statement.
The decision to downgrade staff still working on interim clearances indicates that Kelly is prepared to impose the same sort of discipline on the White House clearance process that he has tried to impose on the West Wing staff more broadly, Politico said.
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted – especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly told colleagues in a memo circulated on Feb. 16. “We should – and in the future, must – do better.”
But no matter what workarounds the White House staff come up with, the fact remains that Kushner will no longer be able to sit in on his father-in-law’s daily intelligence briefings, and myriad other meetings to which he previously had unfettered access.
It’s hard to believe this change won’t severely limit the influence he has on the president – even if he retains his senior advisor position.