So, Who Can See the Files?

Terry H. Schwadron

March 2, 2019

You’re Donald Trump, the president of the United States, and you want Jared Kushner, your son-in-law, to have the White House’s top security clearance. And, apparently you have the power to do so, even though it is over the objection of your own security people.

So, you do so — even over the objection of your chief of staff, the security folks and the professionals who review such requests. The question is why lie about it later? Why not take credit for it? Could it be that even Trump sees this security credential as nepotism and a an expression of authoritarianism?

It came to light through memos obtained by The New York Times that the president — and first daughter Ivanka Trump — lied directly when asked if Trump had overridden his security advisers to grant the access to top inside information. Rather than revel in having made a decision like this, Trump tried to hide his action.

Both the president and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s spouse, have issued denials that now look ridiculous, argued Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

According to The Times, it is not known precisely what factors led to the problems with Kushner’s security clearance. 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. Over two years, Kushner has had to revise his foreign contacts list 40 times, raising questions about whether Kushner is bad with forms, can’t remember talking to, say, the Russian ambassador, or doesn’t take the legal process very seriously.

Still, he has not been given the tippety-top level of credential that would give him access to current intelligence information that you might think you’d want to know if you have taken on the assignment of remaking the Middle East for your father-in-law.

Actually, Trump appears to have overridden security recommendations at least 30 times in all, granting top secret status to others for whom the security and intelligence folks had apprehensions. Kushner has had complicated financial dealings with international interests and banks, and security officials had held up on granting the top secret access because of the possibility of mis-use of such information on behalf of business partners.

It is just plain discouraging to see the president acting this way. He is so focused on promoting himself and his family that any sense of truth or safety for the country seems to be only a momentary negotiating point.

Clearly, as the events of the week have shown, Trump sees his own authority and view of the world as above all else.

Thus, a desired deal with North Korea should have happened just because Trump had willed it — the lack of sufficient preparation notwithstanding. So, the summit failed on practical, enforceable grounds, on the outlook of living with a nuclear-armed foe, on basing his thinking on the supposed strength of personality rather than on carefully verified diplomatic agreements.

Thus, a litany of potential criminal liabilities outlined by his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen just doesn’t exist because Trump sees Cohen as a disloyal liar.

Thus, it doesn’t matter that Congress repeatedly has not adopted spending money for a Wall on the border; what matters only is that Trump wants it and can manipulate constitutional authorities to make it so. At one point, Cohen raised the specter that if Congress or the 2020 election decided that Trump should go, Trump might not obey.

There is a regal insistence that runs through all of these examples, an insistence that Trump himself is a would-be political strongman who sees the presidency as an extension of his own personality, business and pleasure.

I guess I am having a strong reaction to the latest disclosures about the security clearance is because it represents some kind of need to lie even when there is absolutely no value in it. If he knew it was “wrong,” he shouldn’t have overridden the system; if he is going to rely on the fact that he is the ultimate decision-maker, then there is no reason to lie.

Trump’s decision last May to grant the clearance so troubled senior administration officials that John F. Kelly Jr., the White House chief of staff, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Kushner the top-secret clearance. Another memo was written by Donald F. McGahn II, the then-White House lawyer.

For Democrats now in charge of the House, this is red meat for yet another pending investigation, a practice that now suggests that scandal is the being by-product for the administration. This issue will not go away easily.

Indeed, investigators from the appropriate oversight committees are demanding that the White House turn over documents related to the security clearances of top officials by Monday.

Trump has brought this particular scandal on himself. Again. The question is why?


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