Jared Kushner has a security clearance — but only because Trump appointee overruled experts

Trump's son-in-law was originally rejected for top-secret clearance. Even after White House insisted, CIA said no

By Igor Derysh

Published January 25, 2019 5:40PM (EST)

Jared Kushner (Getty/Win McNamee)
Jared Kushner (Getty/Win McNamee)

President Trump's top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was originally denied a security clearance by career officials after an FBI background check raised red flags. But the clearance was granted anyway by a Trump appointee who overruled expert recommendations, NBC News has reported.

Carl Kline, a former Pentagon official who was appointed to head the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017, overruled career officials on Kushner’s clearance -- and also in 30 other cases of Trump officials who received unfavorable recommendations from career security specialists. According to the report, career officials were overruled on security clearances just once in the previous three years before Kline’s appointment.

Sources told NBC News that Kushner’s FBI background check raised questions about possible foreign influence over him. The Washington Post reported last year that officials in at least four countries -- Israel, the United Arab Emirates, China and Mexico -- had discussed how they could manipulate the president’s son-in-law by taking advantage of his family’s business arrangements, his company’s debts and his lack of foreign policy experience.

A career adjudicator at the personnel security office who reviewed the FBI’s findings determined that Kushner’s security clearance application was “unfavorable.”

After the official’s supervisor also agreed with the recommendation, the application was sent to Kline, who overruled the two career officials and approved Kushner for “top secret” security clearance.

Brad Moss, an attorney who represents people seeking security clearances, told NBC that “no one else gets that kind of treatment.”

"The normal line adjudicators looked at the FBI report … saw the foreign influence concerns, but were overruled by the quasi-political supervisor,” he said.

After Kushner was granted the security clearance thanks to Kline, Kushner’s file was forwarded to the CIA to grant him access to the government’s most sensitive information, such as intercepted foreign communications and CIA source reporting, referred to as "sensitive compartmented information," or SCI.

According to the report, CIA officers who reviewed the file rejected Kushner’s application. One even called the White House security division to question how Kushner even got a top-secret clearance.

Because Kushner was denied clearance to access SCI materials, he would not have access to vital intelligence unless Trump overrides the rules, which he is legally allowed to do.

Daniel Jacobson, a former lawyer for the Obama administration, wrote that it was highly unusual for career officials to be overruled on security clearances, adding that it was even more alarming that 30 Trump administration officials were denied clearances in the first place.

“It is not normal for the head of the Personal Security Office to ever overrule the career employees who adjudicate clearances,” he wrote on Twitter. “It takes some pretty bad stuff to be denied a clearance. The fact that there have been thirty denial recommendations of WH staff in the last 1.5 years is itself crazy, before you even get to the overruling part.”

Jacobson added that there must have been truly damning evidence for someone with Kushner's evident power and influence to be denied a clearance.

“They would not do that lightly for someone of Kushner’s stature and position,” he added. “The fact that the C.I.A. then denied his S.C.I. application is equally damning. … And the fact that they were so disturbed by the granting of his [top secret] clearance that they called over to the WH? Hooboy.”

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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