In light of a report from the New York Times that President Donald Trump overruled concerns from the intelligence community and ordered officials to give Jared Kushner a security clearance, comments made in recent interviews by the president and his daughter Ivanka Trump seem especially awkward.
During an interview conducted less than a month ago with ABC, Ivanka Trump unequivocally rejected a suggestion that she and Kushner received special treatment.
“The president had had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero,” Ivanka said.
EXCLUSIVE: Ivanka Trump says she and her husband Jared Kushner received no special treatment from her father when obtaining their top security clearances.— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2019
"The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance, zero.” https://t.co/88dUizY8Ht pic.twitter.com/MsanC4qzQC
But if the Times report is true, then what Ivanka said is a blatant lie. From the Times:
In May 2018, the White House Counsel’s Office, which at the time was led by [former White House counsel] Don McGahn, recommended to Mr. Trump that Mr. Kushner not be given a clearance at that level. But the next day, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway, the people familiar with the events said.
Ivanka’s comments now seem even more awkward in light of a new report from CNN that not only did Kushner get special treatment, but she did too.
Trump “pressured his then-chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance against their recommendations,” CNN reported on Tuesday evening, citing three people familiar with the matter.
Concerns about Kushner have included his contacts with Russia. In addition to being the only current White House official who attended the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, Kushner reportedly tried to set up a secret back channel to the Kremlin during the presidential transition. He has also allegedly tried to leverage his powerful White House role to benefit his family business.
To cite a representative example, less than two weeks ago, the House Oversight Committee released a report indicating that a Saudi Arabian nuclear power plant project promoted by top White House officials over intelligence community objections would have enriched a company, Brookfield Asset Management, that recently provided financial relief to Kushner’s family.
Trump’s decision to grant Kushner a clearance reportedly so bothered Kelly that he “wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance,” according to the Times. McGahn, then the top White House lawyer, reportedly wrote a separate memo detailing concerns the CIA had about the move.
CNN’s Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins report that with regard to Ivanka Trump’s clearance, “officials had concerns about granting [her] a clearance that were separate from those raised about her husband, according to one of the sources, though it’s unclear what the concerns regarding her were.” ThinkProgress has detailed how two Trump Organization international real estate projects Ivanka Trump was heavily involved in — in Panama and Azerbaijan — have been linked to allegations of money laundering and corruption.
President Trump has also categorically denied giving his family members special treatment in the security clearance process. Days before Ivanka Trump told ABC her father wasn’t involved in the security clearance process pertaining to her or Kushner, Times reporter Maggie Haberman directly asked President Trump during an interview if he told “General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials” and give Kushner a clearance. Trump unequivocally denied doing so. From the interview:
HABERMAN: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials? The career veterans —
TRUMP: No. I don’t think I have the authority to do that. I’m not sure I do.
HABERMAN: You do have the authority to do it.
Trump: But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t do it.
TRUMP: Um, Jared is a good —
HABERMAN: You never —
TRUMP: I was never involved with the security. I know that he — you know, just from reading — I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.
As Haberman pointed out during the interview, the president undoubtedly has the legal authority to order officials to give clearances to whomever he pleases. But the juxtaposition of what the Times is reporting with what Trump and his daughter recently said is another blow for the White House’s credibility.
This point was made by Trump supporter Chris Christie during a Friday morning interview on Fox & Friends.
“The problem is they didn’t tell the truth,” Christie said. “Now the president very directly said in an interview in the New York Times, ‘I had nothing to do with it.’ And then Ivanka Trump said in an interview on ABC, ‘My father had nothing to do with my clearance or my husband’s clearance.’”
“This is part of the problem, I think, with having family in official positions,” Christie added. “It’s hard to be objective. It’s hard to be objective about the people you’re having Thanksgiving dinner with.”
In response to the Times’s reporting about Kushner’s security clearance, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders sent the publication a statement that didn’t deny any part of their reporting, but said “we don’t comment on security clearances.” But that also isn’t true. Last summer, the White House made a big show of publicly announcing that it was stripping security clearances from a number of top Obama-era intelligence officials.