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Trump Ignored Intelligence Officers To Give Jared Kushner Top Security Clearances

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump overruled the concerns of intelligence officials and his own White House staff to grant top-secret security clearance to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. That's according to a new report published tonight by The New York Times. The Times reports that the order was memorialized in a contemporaneous memo written last year by then chief of staff John Kelly. I am joined now by Times reporter Michael Schmidt. Hey, Mike.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Good to have you with us. OK, a little background just to set this up. Kushner's security clearance has been controversial almost from the get-go. He had to amend his application multiple times. What was giving officials pause in granting it through the normal process?

SCHMIDT: Well, he has a very complicated financial history background with a lot of ownership in different things. He had had contact with foreigners during the campaign that the intelligence community wanted to look at. And all of that delayed the process. And in that time, his security clearance was downgraded from top-secret to secret. And then what we're writing about today is how the president went ahead and gave him the top-secret clearance despite the fact that the White House counsel said that's not a good idea. The intelligence community raised concerns. And, you know, there was a divide within the White House office that makes these determinations.

KELLY: OK. And according to your reporting, what are the details in terms of when and exactly how Trump intervened?

SCHMIDT: So this was in May of last year. And what had happened was is that after all of this back-and-forth and investigating and such, the White House counsel's office made a determination and said - and gave their recommendation, saying that the CIA had raised concerns and that the counsel's office has concerns and that their recommendation was for him not to get the clearance. And what happened then is that the president ordered the White House chief of staff John Kelly to give Kushner the top-secret clearance. And a day after that or so, it was out in the public from Kushner's side that he had his clearances restored.

KELLY: And that is what gave rise to the - John Kelly writing a memo, saying - I mean, what's your understanding of what it said - I don't want to do this; I've been ordered to do it against my objections?

SCHMIDT: I think what Kelly was saying is that the president, despite everything else that has gone on, has ordered this to happen. Traditionally, the president does not get involved in things like this. He relies on the advice of the folks working in the White House counsel's office or in the personnel office to determine this. In this case, the determination was made. The answer was no. But the president said, let's give it to him anyway.

KELLY: The president has also denied this. He has definitively denied interfering. You described your sources as four people briefed on the matter. What gives you confidence that they are right?

SCHMIDT: This is something that we have looked at and looked into for a long period of time. We, knowing it was such a high-stakes story, put a lot of time and effort into doing diligence on the information as we do with all of these pieces. And we got to a place that we felt comfortable with the information we had despite the fact that the president, his daughter and Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell had said contradictory things publicly.

KELLY: And what do you believe is the significance of this, Mike? Beyond the Byzantine, you know, West Wing politics of the White House, why does it matter?

SCHMIDT: I think at a very basic level, the intelligence community was saying, we're not comfortable with this; there are issues here. The president's top lawyer was saying the same thing. And despite that, the president went ahead and did it anyway.

KELLY: Michael Schmidt. He is Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Thanks very much, Mike.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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