President Trump directed his chief of staff in 2017 to award Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance, overruling career officials who deemed the senior adviser and presidential son-in-law unworthy of eligibility access to that level of classified information, both the New York Times and The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The reaction has been swift and fierce, especially from Democrats on Capitol Hill. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who had already requested security clearance-related information from the White House, called for “full compliance with its requests as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance.” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote: “There is no nepotism exception for background investigations.”
In fact, there is. It’s part of a huge “exception” for granting security clearances: the whim of the person in the Oval Office... Legitimate questions remain about Kushner’s suitability for a senior position in the White House given his reported attempt to establish a secret back-channel with Russia during the transition — and to do it with Russian embassy communication equipment rather than anything under U.S. government control or knowledge.
.. But now, there are numerous legitimate questions for Congress to pursue. Why couldn’t Kushner get favorable approval through a system that millions of others have gone through? Does he have specific counterintelligence vulnerabilities for foreign manipulation? Did the president actually overrule career advice given to him — and, if so, why? Demanding information with subpoenas or with power-of-the-purse tactics about the president’s decision-making — not his inherent underlying authority — is how oversight should work in this case.
.. If sensitive information is central, as seems the case on this issue, some of this may need to be done in closed session. Congress might give the lead to the House Select Committee for Intelligence, which has a better ability to handle classified testimony and documents than the House Oversight Committee. Avoiding political theater is especially important with privacy-protected information.
In the past, public pressure resulting from congressional oversight and/or the media’s investigative reporting has prompted administrations to fire or force the resignation of irresponsible officials. It’s been less common for scandals to drive such responses from this administration, but keep in mind that Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, found himself without a job amid public outcry.
There are too many unanswered questions about the White House’s role in advancing Saudi ambitions.
Jared Kushner slipped quietly into Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, so the question I’m trying to get the White House to answer is this: Did they discuss American help for a Saudi nuclear program?
Of all the harebrained and unscrupulous dealings of the Trump administration in the last two years, one of the most shocking is a Trump plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Even as President Trump is trying to denuclearize North Korea and Iran, he may be helping to nuclearize Saudi Arabia. This is abominable policy tainted by a gargantuan conflict of interest involving Kushner.
Kushner’s family real estate business had been teetering because of a disastrously overpriced acquisition he made of a particular Manhattan property called 666 Fifth Avenue, but last August a company called Brookfield Asset Management rescued the Kushners by taking a 99-year lease of the troubled property — and paying the whole sum of about $1.1 billion up front.
Alarm bells should go off: Brookfield also owns Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear services business trying to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi swamp, meet American swamp.
It may be conflicts like these, along with even murkier ones, that led American intelligence officials to refuse a top-secret security clearance for Kushner. The Times reported Thursday that Trump overruled them to grant Kushner the clearance.
This nuclear reactor mess began around the time of Trump’s election, when a group of retired U.S. national security officials put together a plan to enrich themselves by selling nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. The officials included Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, and they initially developed a “plan for 40 nuclear power plants” in Saudi Arabia, according to a report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The plan is now to start with just a couple of plants.
As recently as Feb. 12, Trump met in the White House with backers of the project and was supportive, Reuters reported.
No one knows whether Prince Muhammed will manage to succeed his father and become the next king, for there is opposition and the Saudi economic transformation he boasts of is running into difficulties.
Trump and Kushner seem to be irresponsibly trying to boost the prince’s prospects, increasing the risk that an unstable hothead will mismanage the kingdom for the next 50 years. Perhaps with nuclear weapons.