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.
The private equity firm of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden inked a billion-dollar deal with a subsidiary of the Chinese government’s Bank of China just 10 days after the father and son flew to China in 2013.
The Biden bombshell is one of many revealed in a new investigative book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends by Government Accountability Institute President and Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer. Schweizer’s last book, Clinton Cash, sparked an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation
.. In December of 2013, Vice President Biden and his son Hunter flew aboard Air Force Two to China. Ten days after the trip, a subsidiary of the Bank of China named Bohai Capital signed an exclusive deal with Hunter Biden’s firm to form a $1 billion joint-investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST. The deal was later increased to $1.5 billion.
Long before their father’s election, the Trump children enjoyed a stellar reputation among most Manhattan influencers for being hard-working and well raised. They possessed few of the flaws too easily recognizable in other wealthy and well-connected kids.
Often, conversations that centered on the boorish behavior of Trump himself would end with someone citing his children as a mitigating factor against whatever severe judgments were being handed down.
.. In a recent tweet, she declared that she would be “serving alongside John Kelly,” just as the retired four-star Marine general let it be known that all access to the Oval Office would go through him. The real estate heiress not only appeared to be claiming the West Wing as her territory, but she also betrayed a troubling sense of entitlement that one might expect from other billionaires’ daughters but not this one.
.. Though Donald Trump might be loath to admit it, Kushner did much to elect his father-in-law. By quietly building a successful online fundraising and targeting operation far beyond his candidate’s comprehension, Kushner gave Trump a fighting chance to keep the 2016 presidential race close, in the hope that lightning would strike at the right time. It did. And that’s when Kushner’s problems began.
.. Trump’s shocking victory led his son-in-law to believe he could reinvent government like Al Gore, micromanage the White House like James Baker and restructure the Middle East like Moses.
.. Vice presidents, not daughters, should sit in G-20 summits. And a secretary of state should broker Middle East peace. Not an inexperienced 36-year-old son-in-law.
“I try to stay out of politics,” Ivanka Trump said in a recent interview. But the US president’s daughter spent part of her weekend sitting around a table with the Chinese, Russian and Turkish presidents, the German chancellor and the British prime minister.
The former businesswoman and fashion model briefly took her father’s seat during a G20 session in Hamburg, prompting claims of nepotism and a heavy dose of sarcasm about her diplomatic credentials.
.. Trump, 35, sat around the table with Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Angela Merkel and Theresa May. One official who was watching the session told the Bloomberg news agency she had taken her father’s place on at least two occasions on Saturday but had not spoken.
.. What qualifications and experience does Ivanka Trump have in her background that should put her at the table with world leaders like Theresa May and Vladimir Putin? Literally a foot over from Vladimir Putin. This just goes to, I think, the level of inherent corruption in this administration.”
.. “I’m very proud of my daughter Ivanka, always have been from day one. I have to tell you that, from day one. If she weren’t my daughter, it’d be so much easier for her.
Shortly after his inauguration, President George H. W. Bush counseled freshly minted White House appointees that, “It’s not really very complicated. It’s a question of knowing right from wrong, avoiding conflicts of interest, bending over backwards to see that there’s not even a perception of conflict of interest.
.. By holding themselves to the same exacting standards as the rest of the executive branch, they sent a clear message to those serving under them.
.. This tradition came to an abrupt stop with President Trump. By continuing to hold onto his businesses and effectively advertising them through frequent visits to his properties, our leader creates the appearance of profiting from the presidency. As things stand, we can’t know whether policy aims or personal financial interests motivate his decisions as president. Whatever his intentions may be, the resulting uncertainty casts a pall of doubt over governmental decision-making.
.. Every past administration actively supported O.G.E.’s work and respected it for taking stands when necessary. That White House support provided the office with the leverage it needed to fulfill its mission.
.. The Office of Government Ethics has been performing the same service it has always provided with respect to the current administration’s nominees. In fact, I have succeeded in moving President Trump’s nominees on average almost a week (six days to be exact) faster than I moved President Obama’s nominees during the last presidential transition, without compromising O.G.E.’s high standards. I am particularly proud of this accomplishment because this administration’s nominees generally hold far more complex financial interests than the last administration’s nominees, a circumstance that would normally be expected to slow O.G.E.’s work.
A White House lawyer made the extraordinary assertion that “many regulations promulgated by the Office of Government Ethics (‘OGE’) do not apply to employees of the Executive Office of the President.”
Appearing to echo this view, the Office of Management and Budget challenged O.G.E.’s authority to collect routine ethics records.
Even some presidential nominees have pushed back against ethics processes with uncommon intensity.
.. the very official charged with responsibility for White House ethics, the counsel to the president. His office recently ginned up ten unsigned, undated waivers, many of which seem intended to have retroactive effect, raising the specter of a possible effort to paper over ethics violations. Worse, the counsel appears to be both issuer and recipient of two waivers.
.. Defenders of the status quo also seem unwilling to acknowledge the existence of a problem absent clear evidence of significant violations. This argument risks legitimizing an approach of bare minimum legal compliance. The existence or absence of identified violations is not the only measure of an ethics program — no program can detect every violation and those detected are often hard to prove.
.. Those systems depend on adherence to ethical norms.
.. Recent experiences have convinced me that the existing mechanism is insufficient. The Office of Government Ethics needs greater authority to obtain information from the executive branch, including the White House. The White House and agencies lacking inspectors general need investigative oversight, which should be coordinated with O.G.E.
.. Because we can no longer rely on presidents to comply voluntarily with ethical norms, we need new laws to address their conflicts of interest, their receipt of compensation for the use of their names while in office, nepotism and the release of tax forms.
.. Disclosure requirements can be refined and the revolving door tightened.
the achingly obvious oddity of deciding that Trump, whose experience on the public stage largely consists of marketing her clothing and jewelry lines, and her efforts to get her father, Donald Trump, elected, was qualified to sit between Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and Chrystia Freeland, the Foreign Minister of Canada.
.. maybe the make-believe about Ivanka coming up with world-changing ideas is harmless, if it means that her father will look kindly on the World Bank—although a report, this week, in the Washington Post about the conditions in a Chinese factory run by the contractor who makes her brand’s clothes (extremely low wages and long hours) does not quite fit into the picture.
.. He’s been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive in the new reality of a duelling—”
When asked, more specifically, how she advised him, she said, “It’s been an ongoing discussion I’ve had with my father most of my adult life, and we’re very aligned in many, many areas. And that’s why he’s encouraged me to fully lean into this opportunity and come into the White House and be by his side.” The implication was that nepotism was one of her father’s virtues, and proof of his good character.
.. when NBC News asked her about admitting Syrian refugees to the United States, she said that it should be “part of the discussion, but that’s not going to be enough in and of itself.” The resulting headlines suggested that this constituted a break with her father. But how, exactly? Refugees are “part of the discussion” when he rails against them; and “not going to be enough” could just as easily refer to what the President sees as the need for “extreme vetting,” or letting in only Christians. She referred, for a second time, to the areas “in which I’m fully aligned with my father—which are many.” “Many” could mean anything,
.. Foreign countries and companies might appreciate the idea that they can more easily handle Donald Trump if they lavish his daughter with attention; this is a common enough practice when dealing with authoritarian governments.