Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances

After 15 months, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, still has only an interim security clearance.

WASHINGTON — One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was “not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children,” calling such claims “a typically false news story.” But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.

Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.

People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka.

It remains unclear why Mr. Kushner’s security clearance has taken so long. He has publicly admitted to making several mistakes on the national security questionnaire required of all prospective White House employees. Mr. Kushner’s background as a wealthy New York real estate developer with a complicated financial history is also likely to have slowed the thorough background check process.

Mr. Kushner has also been interviewed by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, though it is not known whether any potential actions relevant to the Russia inquiry are part of the delay in finishing Mr. Kushner’s background check.

Abbe D. Lowell, Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, said in a statement that “it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration (some taking as long as two years)” and that there are “a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed like his.”

Questions about the security clearance process at the White House have become more urgent after the scandal surrounding Mr. Porter and the still-unanswered questions about when the president’s aides knew about the abuse allegations against him. On Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, again refused to provide a detailed explanation.

“I can’t get into the specifics,” Ms. Sanders said in response to questions about what Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, knew about the Porter allegations and when he knew it.

Ms. Sanders referred questions about the security clearance process — and why Mr. Porter was allowed to continue working at the White House for so long despite the abuse accusations — to the F.B.I. and the intelligence agencies, saying they are the ones that handle the background checks and the granting of permission to handle classified information.

“It’s up to those same law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine if changes need to be made to their process,” she said.

The F.B.I. had no comment on Monday.

The finger-pointing has frustrated Democratic members of Congress, who have pushed to gain visibility into the security clearance procedure at the White House.

Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has refused to ask the White House for any information about security clearances or for a formal briefing on the matter, Democrats on the panel said Monday. He has also refused to allow the committee to vote on three subpoenas proposed by Democrats, including one on interim clearances.

Mr. Gowdy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In a letter sent last week, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, pressed Mr. Gowdy to more aggressively tackle the security clearance issue, saying that news of Mr. Porter’s problems had given the matter renewed urgency.

“If you had agreed to any of our previous requests for information on these matters, the White House would have been required to answer key questions about why Mr. Porter was denied a final security clearance,” Mr. Cummings wrote.

“Instead, because of your multiple refusals, we did not find out about any of these issues until they were reported in the press,” he added.

The process for allowing White House officials to work with secret, classified material typically begins when West Wing employees are subjected to a brief background check and are granted interim clearance. A full background check by the F.B.I. and, in some cases, the C.I.A. then begins.



Trump’s History of Believing Men

Well before the #MeToo movement gained momentum, Donald J. Trump weighed in on allegations against several well-known men, including himself. A look at his past statements shows a man quick to defend other men.

“This guy has got to be the toughest guy to take the kind of abuse that he’s taking.” “I have no idea who these women are.” “They said nothing happened. Everybody said nothing happened.” Well before the #MeToo movement gained momentum, Donald Trump weighed in on allegations against several well-known men, including himself. A look at his past statements show a man who’s quick to defend other men. “He says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that.” The president recently vouched for Rob Porter, a White House aide who is accused of physical and verbal abuse by two ex-wives. Porter denies the allegations. Trump also defended Roy Moore, the former Republican Alabama Senate candidate. Moore is accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls. “Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it.” President Trump then campaigned for Moore. “So get out and vote for Roy Moore.” Five women received settlements after making harassment claims against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. He was later forced off the network. O’Reilly denied the allegations. This is what the president said. “‘He’s a person I know well — he’s a good person,’ adding, ‘I think he shouldn’t have settled. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.’” In 2016, a reporter accused Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of grabbing and bruising her arm at a campaign rally. “A lot of people are looking and saying, how can anybody be charged? He was — she was actually — if you look at her, my look at, and according to a lot of — she’s grabbing at me, and he’s acting as an intermediary and trying to block her from doing that.” There have been moments when Trump has come out against men accused of sexual misconduct. But it’s typically only happened when they’re political rivals. The president slammed former Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, after a photo surfaced of him appearing to grope a woman. “The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 ...” Trump also criticized Harvey Weinstein, a major Democratic Party donor, after allegations that he engaged in rampant sexual harassment and abuse. “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not at all surprised to see it.” And then there’s the president, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. Like many of the men he defends, Trump denies the allegations. “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never.”

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Well before the #MeToo movement gained momentum, Donald J. Trump weighed in on allegations against several well-known men, including himself. A look at his past statements shows a man quick to defend other men.CreditCredit...Tom Brenner, via The New York Times

Officials with previous administrations said it is not uncommon for the full background checks to take as long as eight months or a year, in part because of a long backlog in vetting the backgrounds of people needing clearance across the federal government.

Background checks take about a year for Pentagon employees and six to seven months for prospective C.I.A. or National Security Agency workers, a senior American official said.

But several former White House officials said it is also common for administration officials to encourage the investigators to give top priority to senior presidential aides like Mr. Porter and Mr. Kushner.

What Mr. McGahn and other top White House officials learned about the allegations against Mr. Porter, and when they learned it, remains murky.

Mr. Porter told Mr. McGahn in January 2017 that there could be what he described as false allegations against him, according to two people briefed on the situation. In June, the F.B.I. informed the White House security office that allegations of domestic abuse had surfaced. Mr. McGahn was made aware at the time that there was an issue with Mr. Porter’s background investigation, but relied on the security office to continue pursuing the background check.

White House officials disputed that assertion, saying on Monday that Mr. McGahn was not made aware during the summer of any problems with Mr. Porter’s clearance.

In November, the bureau delivered a thick file on Mr. Porter’s background check to the security office and relayed that he was not likely to succeed in getting a permanent clearance, according to one person briefed on the case. Security office officials encouraged the F.B.I. to complete its investigation so the office could make a final determination on Mr. Porter’s clearance.

One person briefed on the situation, who had insisted on anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said late last week that the bureau had informed Mr. McGahn when the file was delivered that the allegations against Mr. Porter were likely to derail his security clearance. But on Monday, the person said that he had been mistaken, and contended that Mr. McGahn had not learned of the F.B.I.’s communications to the security office until much later.

In Mr. Kushner’s case, a final decision about a permanent security clearance is also still pending.

Mr. Lowell said that it should not be surprising that someone with “the extent of his holdings, travels and lengthy submissions” would require a lengthy background check. But he took issue with the suggestion that the delays somehow affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to do his job at the White House.

“This is just the latest,” he said, “in unnamed sources quoting secondhand hearsay concerning Mr. Kushner that, like the others, will be shown to be untrue.”

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