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Kushner-Kelly divide deepens over security clearance overhaul

White House chief of staff John Kelly has been locked in an internal struggle with President Donald Trump's son-in-la...

Posted: Feb 21, 2018 12:17 PM
Updated: Feb 21, 2018 12:17 PM

White House chief of staff John Kelly has been locked in an internal struggle with President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner over his access to highly classified information for weeks now, a confrontation that has escalated amid a recent policy overhaul and the resignation of a staff secretary who was accused of spousal abuse.

The dispute has deepened a growing rift between Kelly and Kushner, who initially welcomed the new system of rigor instituted by the chief of staff but has since grown frustrated by what he views as attempts to limit his access to the President.

Kelly distributed a five-page memo Friday announcing that the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances to access to top secret information if their background investigation has been pending since before last June -- a category Kushner falls into.

Some saw the memo as a direct affront to Kushner, who has had access to highly classified information for over a year but still does not have a permanent security clearance. Kushner is one of the few White House officials who regularly receives the President's Daily Brief, a daily roundup of issues that the intelligence community determines the President needs to be aware of each morning.

"It's not aimed at Jared, but to fix a broken system," a White House official said, acknowledging the tensions that exist between Kelly and Kushner.

But since Trump has the ultimate authority over who he does -- and doesn't -- want in his inner circle, it's far from clear whether Kelly's new policy will be immediately enforced on Kushner, the official said. The new clearance policy could limit Kushner's ability to participate in meetings or handle documents with classified information, a strategy some say is intentional on Kelly's behalf.

Kushner has taken an active role in foreign policy in the Trump administration, and has requested access to more classified information than most other top White House aides, according to a person familiar with the matter.

However, the person downplayed the extent to which his biggest portfolios -- including attempting to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians and working with China on trade issues -- would require access to highly classified information. Instead, the person said, those matters could be walled off without requiring access to other government secrets.

The New York Times first reported the security clearance tension between Kelly and Kushner.

Fallout from Porter scandal

Kelly's new process for granting security clearances comes a little over a week after former staff secretary Rob Porter resigned when abuse allegations against him became public. Kelly has been the subject of criticism in that time over revelations that Porter remained on staff for months in spite of the FBI flagging the allegations of domestic abuse to the White House. In his memo, Kelly acknowledged that that "we should -- and in the future, must -- do better."

One White House official said that, although unspoken, it was clear that other staffers were worried about raising questions about Porter's clearance issues because they were concerned it would resurrect scrutiny surrounding Kushner's own issues.

Though Kushner and Ivanka Trump were once proponents of Kelly, believing he would bring much-needed stability to a chaotic West Wing, neither thought the limitations he would impose would apply to them. They have, in turn, soured on him. The pair has actively discussed possible replacements for Kelly, including Gary Cohn, who is currently Trump's top economic adviser.

Multiple White House officials have said the complications with Kushner's security clearance have only exacerbated his frustration with Kelly, who has privately disregarded Kushner and Ivanka Trump as unserious and meddling. Since becoming chief of staff, Kelly has sought to limit Kushner's portfolio while also dismissing Ivanka Trump's agenda, once referring to her child tax credit as "a pet project."

One White House official speculated that the security clearance restriction could also serve as a way for Kelly to limit Kushner's access to the President, because he would be restricted from attending certain briefings or participating in sensitive conversations.

Though a source familiar with the situation said Kushner has not yet appealed to the President directly about his access to highly classified information, those close to Trump believe he would be inclined to grant his son-in-law access if asked. This source pointed to the fact that Kushner is part of the President's family and has outlasted all of his rivals in Trump's inner circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie.

Trump, however, has given Kelly his full support in efforts to reform the White House's system of security clearances, and has told his chief of staff that changes need to be made to bring the system into order, according to a person who has spoken to him about the matter. Kelly has interpreted that as a wide-ranging mandate that would include Kushner, a person familiar with the matter said. The person said Trump and Kelly would likely discuss the matter this week, if they haven't already, before Kelly's self-imposed Friday deadline.

Kelly's job safe -- for now

Despite a swirl of reports last week about Kelly's standing in the West Wing, multiple people who spoke with Trump over the weekend say he does not appear any closer to dismissing his chief of staff. Kelly spent the weekend in Florida with the President at his estate in West Palm Beach. The President also told Kelly privately that he has his support, adding that he "had a hell of a week" and emerged stronger.

Kelly, who has told colleagues he considers himself to be media savvy, has been cautious to appear publicly supportive of Kushner. After questions were raised whether the new clearance policy would affect Kushner, Kelly issued a statement saying he had "full confidence in (Kushner's) ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico."

"Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the President's agenda," Kelly said. "There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise."

Kelly also coached White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on how to answer when asked about Kushner's clearance issues.

"I can tell you that nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared is doing. He continues, and will continue, to be a valued member of the team," Sanders said at the briefing Tuesday. "And he'll continue to do the important work that he's been focused on with the last year."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 584227

Reported Deaths: 7297
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1211481718
Ramsey50494868
Dakota45177443
Anoka40908433
Washington26429279
Stearns21950221
St. Louis17568302
Scott17036124
Wright15771136
Olmsted1312197
Sherburne1144384
Carver1035045
Clay809292
Rice7964106
Blue Earth740941
Crow Wing654188
Kandiyohi648282
Chisago584051
Otter Tail568978
Benton561497
Goodhue471972
Mower461432
Douglas460474
Winona448950
Itasca421153
McLeod417758
Morrison414560
Isanti410762
Nobles406748
Beltrami388558
Steele382015
Polk380368
Becker376450
Lyon357850
Carlton340953
Freeborn339929
Pine324121
Nicollet321443
Brown303540
Mille Lacs298252
Le Sueur286422
Todd278731
Cass266328
Meeker251340
Waseca235822
Martin228831
Roseau206119
Wabasha20383
Hubbard184241
Dodge18193
Renville178243
Redwood171536
Houston170215
Cottonwood163121
Fillmore154110
Wadena153621
Pennington153319
Chippewa151338
Faribault150319
Kanabec143024
Sibley141310
Aitkin133236
Watonwan13049
Rock127319
Jackson121411
Pipestone114226
Yellow Medicine113620
Pope10846
Murray10579
Swift104218
Stevens89211
Marshall87617
Clearwater85816
Koochiching81615
Lake80619
Wilkin79912
Lac qui Parle75022
Big Stone5934
Lincoln5733
Grant5648
Mahnomen5418
Norman5379
Unassigned49793
Kittson48222
Red Lake3957
Traverse3685
Lake of the Woods3193
Cook1560

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 364967

Reported Deaths: 5920
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57277621
Linn20729334
Scott19808240
Black Hawk15757308
Woodbury15091228
Johnson1441183
Dubuque13326209
Dallas1111198
Pottawattamie11043168
Story1054948
Warren573688
Clinton552092
Cerro Gordo536389
Sioux512874
Webster510993
Marshall481075
Muscatine474699
Des Moines451766
Wapello4284122
Buena Vista424040
Jasper413771
Plymouth400179
Lee373155
Marion360575
Jones296957
Henry290737
Carroll284752
Bremer282860
Crawford265840
Boone262734
Benton255055
Washington253350
Dickinson247543
Mahaska229351
Jackson220942
Kossuth215164
Clay214725
Tama208971
Delaware208240
Winneshiek196733
Page192222
Buchanan190431
Cedar188923
Fayette184741
Hardin184643
Wright183436
Hamilton179249
Harrison179273
Clayton169156
Butler164234
Mills161422
Madison160419
Floyd159642
Cherokee158538
Lyon157541
Poweshiek154733
Allamakee150351
Iowa148124
Hancock146834
Winnebago141231
Cass137554
Calhoun136613
Grundy136033
Emmet133940
Jefferson132135
Shelby130437
Sac130119
Appanoose128048
Louisa127849
Union127832
Mitchell125742
Chickasaw123815
Guthrie120829
Humboldt118826
Franklin117421
Palo Alto112223
Howard104122
Montgomery102838
Unassigned10080
Clarke99824
Keokuk95331
Monroe95129
Ida90234
Adair86232
Pocahontas85422
Monona82730
Davis81824
Osceola77916
Greene77610
Lucas76823
Worth7368
Taylor65612
Fremont6229
Decatur6069
Van Buren55718
Ringgold55524
Wayne53223
Audubon50610
Adams3384
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