Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jared Kushner’s security clearance downgrade is not the end of the story, unless you are talking about his diplomatic career. That is over.
Despite the claim by both White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Kushner’s lawyer that “the new clearance policy will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President,” it will do exactly that.
The reliance on Jared Kushner as the primary negotiator for everything from Middle East peace to trade deals to the United States’ relationships in Asia has been dying a slow death over the last year due to a combination of his lack of experience, lack of respect from world leaders and the actions of his boss and father-in-law, President Donald Trump. The official loss of his interim top security clearance should come as no surprise. A valid question the White House should have to answer is why it took so long.
After working in the White House on and off for eight years and traveling around the world for two years with an actual top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, I can confirm without a doubt that it is not possible to be on the front lines of diplomacy as the chief representative of the United States without the highest level of security clearance.
Why? Because a top-level security clearance gives access to information and insights into foreign powers, their leaders and their thinking about ongoing issues that gives chief negotiators a leg up. And it is impossible to do the job of chief negotiator or chief representative for the president without it.
We don’t actually know the real reason for the downgrade, but Kushner’s portfolio changes are the least of his problems.
If you believe White House spin, the memo sent to White House staff, including to Jared Kushner, that informed them that their security clearance had been downgraded, was all part of an effort by Chief of Staff John Kelly to take a significant step in clearing the deck of high-level employees with interim security clearances.
Donald Trump had the power to override that decision – but he didn’t. And Kushner’s father-in-law, the President, hasn’t exactly shied away from breaking the rules, conflicting his own public commitments or making decisions that are clearly conflicts of interest. But he didn’t on Kushner’s behalf, even though it will significantly reduce his portfolio.
The more likely reasons for Kushner’s downgrade affect far more than his job responsibilities.
New reports surfaced on Tuesday that not one, but four foreign powers – the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico – had been discussing ways to influence Kushner. Why? Because of his lack of experience, knowledge and his financial vulnerabilities.
Jared Kushner’s problems are only just beginning
Revelations like these would prompt immediate calls for a brand new congressional investigation in almost any other administration.
This is further public fuel for the investigation that is already ongoing under Robert Mueller.
Not because there are new specifics about Russia’s influence or contacts, but because these reports confirmed that Jared Kushner is a prime candidate for foreign powers to target and to attempt to influence. Because it shows that his naiveté, lack of experience, poor judgment and financial issues had more than just the Russians licking their chops at the prospect of getting closer to Trump.
Jared Kushner’s pursuit of Middle East peace may be dead. But questions about his contacts and engagements with foreign powers are just beginning.