President Donald Trump overruled concerns of security officials and his own White House counsel and ordered that a top-secret security clearance be given to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, The New York Times reported Thursday.
According to the account, the president ordered John Kelly, then his chief of staff, to give Kushner a top-secret security clearance in May 2018, a move that upset some senior administration officials and led Kelly and the White House counsel at the time, Donald McGahn, to each write internal memos about the incident.
McGahn's memo laid out concerns raised about Kushner and the fact that McGahn had recommended against giving him a clearance that high-level.
"We don’t comment on security clearances," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told NBC News Thursday when asked about the Times report.
Reaction to the report from some Democrats was swift. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that "the mystery" of how Kushner was granted a top-secret security clearance has been solved. "His father in law ordered it."
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Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued a statement saying that his panel last month began an investigation of the White House security-clearance process. "To date, the White House has not produced a single document or scheduled a single interview," he wrote.
NBC News reported last month that two career White House security specialists rejected Kushner's application for a top-secret clearance after a FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him, but they were overruled by their supervisor, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Kushner's FBI background check identified questions about his family's business, his foreign contacts, his foreign travel and meetings he had during the campaign, sources told NBC News.
The supervisor, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017, though he is no longer in that position.
Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top-secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said. They said the number of rejections that were overruled was unprecedented — it had happened only once in the three years preceding Kline's arrival.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information, said the Trump White House attracted many people with untraditional backgrounds who had complicated financial and personal histories, some of which raised red flags.
Kushner is also among dozens of staff members in the administration who previously held an interim SCI clearance.
SCI, sensitive compartmented information, is classified material that gets more detailed than top-secret information and can include sources and methods.
As chief of staff, Kelly outlined an overhaul to the processing of security clearances and to discontinue any interim clearances for staff in the Executive Office of the President, NBC News reported last year.