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Jared Kushner is a security risk embedded in the West Wing since he still hasn’t passed a comprehensive background investigation required of anyone seeking a permanent security clearance—and no one will question the president’s decision to put his son-in-law in a crucial government role, experts and officials told Newsweek.
President Donald Trump’s senior adviser has been working under an interim security clearance nearly a year into the administration, as investigators continue to assess his trustworthiness and analyze his web of active foreign investments, according to two sources with knowledge of the status on Kushner’s clearance.
Kushner’s permanent security clearance was stalled because he initially omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times. Kushner’s complicated business interests are also being considered after he repeatedly revised financial disclosure forms. But experts said the sheer volume of his ongoing ties to foreign investors is enough to deny anyone access to classified information.
“The real question is, Why hasn’t his clearance been denied?” said Alan Edmunds, a senior attorney specializing in security clearance law at the Edmunds Law Firm. “Of course, the real reason it hasn’t been denied yet is because nobody has the moxie to tell the president his son-in-law can’t be working in the White House, even though he shouldn’t be.”
The process for getting a government security clearance is well established: Adjudicators from the FBI comb through a form called an SF-86 while making an official assessment as to whether someone can be trusted with the nation’s secrets. Those analysts take into account personal history, such as employment, relationships, foreign entanglements and business deals—and review revisions and mistakes that would-be officials have made on their disclosure forms.
Kushner has updated his forms to add a slew of Russian contacts he had throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, following a pattern of not properly disclosing information on government records.
Experts say Kushner’s original SF-86 questionnaire may have violated the personal conduct code in federal directives for security clearance applicants, since his failure to disclose any foreign contacts on his original forms could be considered the equivalent of making false statements.
Newsweek spoke with seven of the nation’s leading law firms specializing in security clearance law, with clients throughout the Trump administration and federal government. All seven said Kushner’s security clearance should be suspended until investigators can determine whether his failures to disclose information were intentional. Meanwhile, the White House has claimed the delay in Kushner’s clearance is normal due to a backlog in applications.
“People occasionally treat this like it’s a minor deviation from the truth, the way a person may deviate from the truth on income tax filings, but it’s not just a deviation,” Mary Kuntz, a Washington, D.C., attorney at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., told Newsweek. “It’s serious…. It’s evidence you can’t be trusted and makes the likeliness of you getting a security clearance even less.”
Kushner’s attorneys have maintained their client’s innocence from the very beginning, claiming the senior adviser has always tried to be honest and transparent despite his records routinely featuring extensive mistakes. Ethics watchdogs have previously lambasted the former tech entrepreneur and budding real estate magnate for not including one of his companies on a government financial disclosure form, in a move that allowed him to maintain a stake in the young startup while profiting from its explosive success during his transition to public service.
“It’s one thing if you call in and admit to forgetting one or two contacts.… Let’s face it, some people in government have multiple foreign connections,” Greg Rinckey, a founding partner at Tully Rinckey, told Newsweek. “But when you forget a hundred, that’s concerning. The whole point of security clearances are to minimize threats. All this shows a lack of candor on Kushner’s part, a major issue with receiving a clearance.”
Even if his forms were completely accurate from the start, however, Kushner’s foreign business dealings would immediately raise investigators’ eyebrows.
Kushner maintains a stake in several businesses and properties with international ties, including a 41-story office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City, on which his family business, Kushner Cos., reportedly owes hundreds of millions. To raise funds, the company has sought foreign investment from China, Saudi Arabia, France, Israel and Qatar.
Experts say his stake in the Fifth Avenue building alone is more than enough to cause a suspension of an interim security clearance, as some believe he could use his position in the White House to bail out his family’s investment.
“If Jared Kushner was working for any other department in the U.S. government and these issues arose…about falsifying a clearance or omitting information…his access would be first suspended. And then if there’s no other position he could hold, he’d be out of work without pay. He’d be off the job,” Joseph Kaplan, founding principal attorney at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., told Newsweek. “If he was anybody else, his security clearance would have already been denied.”
Democrats have been sounding the alarms on Kushner’s security clearance ever since Trump took office, questioning how he and his wife, White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, managed to obtain access to classified information, and what qualifications permitted them to work in the West Wing.
“I find it demoralizing. I’m a member of Congress, and I’ve had a security clearance when I was in the Air Force. I know if I submitted two false clearances, they would have me under investigation,” Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has long advocated for Kushner’s security clearance to be revoked, told Newsweek.
“If I also was responsible for a $1.2 billion debt on a building in which half is attributable to me and my family, they would simply not give me a security clearance,” Lieu added. “We also need to ask: When Jared Kushner takes trips to foreign countries, is he asking foreign officials to help him finance the 666 building?”
Several requests for comment from Kushner’s legal team and the White House communications office went unanswered. Representatives from federal agencies involved in the security clearance application process declined to comment on the record, citing a practice of not commenting on specific applications.
Regardless of whether Kushner is actually qualified to get a security clearance, little is likely to change in the West Wing, as the president has the ultimate authority in determining whether his son-in-law and Middle East peace envoy eventually receives a permanent clearance.
“The entire security clearance process comes down to the president,” said Sean Bigley, an attorney who did background checks for security clearances and worked in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. “It would be extremely rare—almost unheard of—though [Trump] could order a clearance to be granted, or reverse an adverse decision made by adjudicators if he wanted to. But most of the time we see these cases are left to nonpolitical career personnel.”
As investigators pore through Kushner’s documents, he still has access to America’s secrets under his temporary security clearance. And that rankles the nation’s security experts.
“None of this is normal, including the president requesting security clearances for his children,” Edmunds said. “I’ve never known a president to do that.”