If you needed one clear example of the fundamental flaws of Donald Trump’s presidency, this new reporting out of The New York Times would do the trick nicely: The President reportedly ordered his then-chief of staff John Kelly to secure a top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law Jared Kushner, ignoring the objections of the intelligence community and of Kelly himself.
“It is not known precisely what factors led to the problems with Mr. Kushner’s security clearance,” read the Times report. “Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. The issue also generated criticism of Mr. Trump for having two family members serve in official capacities in the West Wing.”
Stop and think about this for a second: The President of the United States overrode concerns expressed, according to The New York Times, by intelligence officials, his chief of staff and his White House counsel, to push for a top-secret security clearance for his son-in-law, who, not for nothing, he had endowed with such a broad portfolio that Kushner was referred to as the “Secretary of Everything” in the early days of Trump’s White House.
That Trump would pull such a power move – which is legal, yes, but ethically dicey – speaks to his commitment to nepotism, a trait that has always defined his life in and out of politics. Trump has few close friends or associates, choosing to surround himself with his offspring – with a handful of “yes” men and hangers-on liberally sprinkled in.
Trump’s closest advisers in the Trump Organization were his sons, Don Jr. and Eric, and his daughter, Ivanka. (Eric and Don now run the day-to-day operations of the company with their father in the White House.) In the 2016 campaign, his three eldest children were again his inner circle, along with Ivanka’s husband, Kushner. (Remember that at that meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, only three members of the Trump campaign were present: Trump Jr., Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.)
And now, in the White House, Trump has Ivanka and Kushner close by, with amorphous job titles and broad mandates. The elevated status of “Javanka” – how has that nickname not caught on more?? – has rankled all sorts of non-family staffers and led some to leave the administration, often not by their own volition.
That Trump has two family members in such critical positions already raised some eyebrows. That he forced members of his administration to grant Kushner a top-security clearance over the concerns of senior (and career) staffers is deeply troubling – especially when you consider that without Trump forcing the matter, it seems likely that Kushner would have never received his current top-secret clearance.
Trump’s blind nepotism created this: One of the most senior White House staffers, who has a hand in any number of extremely sensitive situations, including attempting to negotiate peace in the Middle East(!), is someone about whom intelligence officials had concerns regarding the potential exposure he could cause the US government. Sit with that for a minute.
Then, consider this second obvious flaw: Trump did not tell the truth when asked directly about the role that he played in securing Kushner’s security clearance.
In January, Trump told the Times that he “was never involved with the security” clearances regarding Kushner, adding: “I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”
According to the Times – and later reporting in which The Washington Post confirmed much of the Times report – Trump was not telling the truth in that interview. Not only did he get “involved” with Kushner’s security clearance, he ordered Kelly to give Kushner the top-secret clearance over the objections of the then-chief of staff.
(Asked Thursday about that obvious contradiction, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this to the Times: “We don’t comment on security clearances.”)
Nepotism. Ignoring the advice of career officials – and members of your own staff. And then not telling the truth when called on it. Yes, this is the Trump presidency.