Security clearances are getting a lot of media coverage these days. The topic made headlines again on Feb. 27 when Politico reported that Jared Kushner’s clearance was downgraded from top secret to secret.
This change is the result of a five-page memo sent by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to the White House counsel, national security adviser and deputy chief of staff for operations. It was a response following the resignation of Rob Porter, a former aide to President Donald Trump. Porter had been working with a temporary clearance when old domestic violence allegations surfaced and threatened his ability to obtain a permanent clearance.
In addition to Kushner, all White House aides who had top secret and sensitive compartmented information-level interim clearances saw their clearances downgraded, Politico reported. These permanent clearances have been pending for more than a year.
CNN reported that Kelly also called for “background check investigations into potential top White House officials to be delivered directly to the White House counsel’s office by the FBI and for the FBI to share ‘significant derogatory information’ uncovered in the course of investigations into senior staff with the White House within 48 hours, according to a copy of the memo released by the White House.”
Talk has swirled around Kushner’s security clearance for months, particularly from Democrats who have called for his clearance to be revoked. Kushner’s SF-86, the application for clearance, had “100 errors and omissions and multiple updates,” Newsweek reported in October 2017. That was number of mistakes was called “unprecedented” by Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau.
Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said the delay in Kushner receiving permanent clearance isn’t unusual. Lowell provided this statement to The Washington Times in February:
“I have inquired and been told that there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed like his; that it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration (some taking as long as two years); that Mr. Kushner’s will take longer than usual because of the extent of his holdings, travels and lengthy submissions; and that there was no concern about the process or Mr. Kushner’s ability to do his job.”
The subject of Kushner’s security clearance continues to be a hot topic because there are rumblings of his vulnerability to manipulation by foreign governments, says security clearance attorney Catie Young, who does not represent Kushner, but has followed the story.
Those vulnerabilities include his personal financial difficulties, his business interests, and his pursuit of foreign investors for his family’s business interests while associated with Trump’s presidential campaign and also while working in the Trump White House, MSNBC reported.
Once an applicant completes the SF-86, the FBI conducts a field investigation to verify the information provided on the SF-86 and to see if the applicants is a potential target for blackmail, said Nicolle Wallace, an MSNBC anchor and former communications chief for President George W. Bush, adding that “he hasn’t proven that he’s not a target for blackmail.”
Wallace has said in the White House in which she worked, if the FBI flagged something, it was reported to White House counsel and then that person’s manager knew. Typically that person was fired that day. Based on what other news outlets have reported, it is likely that Kushner may never have gotten a permanent security clearance, she said.