The senior White House official whose security clearance was denied last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct is presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with documents and testimony provided to the House Oversight Committee.
Kushner was identified only as “Senior White House Official 1” in committee documents released this week describing the testimony of Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower in the White House’s personnel security office who said she and another career employee determined that Kushner had too many “significant disqualifying factors” to receive a clearance.
Their decision was overruled by Carl Kline, the political appointee who then headed the office, according to Newbold’s interview with committee staff.
The new details about the internal debate over Kushner’s clearance revives questions about the severity of the issues flagged in his background investigation and Kushner’s access to government secrets.
Last year, President Trump directed his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, to give Kushner a top-secret security clearance, despite concerns expressed by career intelligence officers.
Tricia Newbold, a manager in the Personnel Security Office of the White House, has alleged that 25 security clearance denials were overruled.
Security clearance experts said the issues raised in Kushner’s background investigation were significant.
“It’s a big deal,” said David Kris, a senior Justice Department official during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and a founder of the consulting firm Culper Partners.
“The kinds of concerns that she mentioned are very serious,” he said. “Senior staff at the White House — and particularly relatives of the U.S. president — are incredibly attractive targets for our adversaries seeking to gather intelligence or exert covert influence.”
In an interview with Fox News, Kushner said he could not comment on the White House security clearance process, but dismissed the idea that he posed a risk to national security.
“But I can say over the last two years that I’ve been here, I’ve been accused of all different types of things, and all of those things have turned out to be false,” he said.
Kushner’s legal team issued a statement in February saying that “White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone.”
Kushner, who is a senior adviser to Trump and married to his daughter Ivanka, was unable to obtain a permanent security clearance for more than a year as his background investigation dragged on — a situation that troubled senior White House officials.
Newbold told the House Oversight Committee that Kushner’s background investigation raised concerns about foreign influence, outside business interests and personal conduct, according to a document released by the committee.
The specific issues flagged in his background check remain unknown.
But The Washington Post reported last year that foreign officials had privately discussed ways to try to manipulate Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.
Among the nations that discussed ways to influence Kushner were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, current and former officials said.
Kushner also came to his post with complex business holdings and a family company facing significant debt, including more than $1 billion owed on a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue.
In 2016, at the same time Kushner was helping to run Trump’s presidential campaign, he and company officials spoke with potential foreign investors about becoming partners in the building, including investors in China and Qatar.
Last February, his clearance was downgraded to secret as part of an effort by Kelly to rein in the number of White House officials without permanent clearances who had access to highly classified material.
Trump then personally directed Kelly to give Kushner a top-secret clearance — a move that made Kelly so uncomfortable that he documented the request in writing, according to people familiar with the situation.
As president, Trump has the authority to grant such clearances, but congressional Democrats have raised questions about the risks that could be overlooked by such a decision.
Kushner’s permanent top-secret clearance was granted May 1, according to internal White House personnel logs obtained by The Post.
The notation was made by someone with the initials “CLK,” the same as Newbold’s then-boss, Kline.
On the same day, Ivanka Trump also obtained her clearance, the logs show.
Attribution:The Washington Post