Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access.
Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
The SCI acronym stands for sensitive compartmented information, a category of information that comes from sensitive intelligence sources and must be walled off.
The memo was not signed by chief of staff John Kelly, but it comes as the retired Marine general and other top White House aides are grappling with the fallout of a scandal involving former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, which revealed that dozens of White House aides had yet to receive permanent clearances but nonetheless had access to some of the country’s deepest secrets.
The president has the ability to grant Kushner a permanent clearance, but Trump said Friday — the same day the memo was sent — that he was leaving the decision to his chief of staff.
“I will let General Kelly make that decision,” Trump told reporters. “I have no doubt he’ll make the right decision.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the memo.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on Kushner’s clearance status at a briefing Tuesday.
“We actually haven’t commented on Jared’s issue indicated, but we have commented on his ability to do his job. Which, he’s a valued member of the team and he will continue to do the important work that he’s been doing since he’s started in the administration.”
Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kushner “has done more than what is expected of him in this process.”
Lowell added that the changes would “not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.”
Friday’s decision is the first change to the clearance process instituted in the wake of the Porter debacle that will directly affect Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to Trump and until now has had access to the president’s daily brief, the most highly classified document that Trump sees.
“He cannot see the PDB, not a chance,” said Bradley Moss, a lawyer who specializes in national security law and clearances. “He no longer has access to a range of intelligence information that ordinarily someone in his position and somebody with his responsibilities would normally be privy to in order to perform their functions.”
Moss said Kushner and others will be debriefed by officials in the White House security office, an event scheduled to take place Thursday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. “They’re going to give him a list, ‘Here’s what you’ve been debriefed from, you’ve been debriefed from this program and that compartment, you no longer have any access to it, and any breach of that would be a serious security violation and a possible criminal issue.’”
Kelly took the rare step last week of issuing a public statement that Kushner would be able to continue his work in the White House unfettered.
“As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Kelly said in the statement.
It was unclear whether Kushner would need access to top secret information to continue performing those duties — and whether Kelly was personally prepared to enact a policy that could be perceived as a jab at the president’s son-in-law.
The decision to downgrade White House staffers still working on interim clearances, however, indicates that Kelly is prepared to impose the same sort of discipline on the White House clearance process that he has tried to impose on the West Wing staff more broadly.
“The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted — especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly told colleagues in a memo circulated on Feb. 16. “We should — and in the future, must — do better.”
Earlier this month, director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that people with temporary security clearances should get only limited access to sensitive classified information. Coats did not mention any specific individuals.
“Sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot, but … access has to be limited in terms of the kinds of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive,” Coats said. “It needs to be reformed.”
Kushner has seen his once-expansive West Wing role steadily curtailed since Kelly’s arrival last July. The new chief immediately required Kushner and his wife, first daughter Ivanka Trump, to report through him rather than directly to the president.
The pair have also seen their circle of trusted allies shrink in recent weeks. Reed Cordish, who joined the White House early on as part of Kushner’s Office of American Innovation, left the White House earlier this month.
Communications staffer Josh Raffel, who handles requests involving Kushner and Ivanka Trump, also plans to leave in the next two months, according to two people familiar with his decision. Raffel did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The news of his departure was first reported by Axios.