In the wake of his botched attempt to cover for a serial domestic abuser, John Kelly is fighting to keep his job and reimpose discipline on the West Wing.
There may be a tension between those two goals.
Earlier this month, the world learned that the White House chief of staff had allowed staff secretary Rob Porter to retain his position — and his access to highly classified information — even after Porter had failed to pass an FBI background check, ostensibly due to his (alleged) history of domestic violence. In the ensuing weeks, reporters revealed that scores of White House officials were operating without permanent security clearances, with some using “interim” clearances indefinitely, as an apparent means of accessing information that the FBI had determined they couldn’t be trusted with.
Now, Kelly is moving to revoke top clearances from anyone who applied for a background check before June 2 of last year, and still hasn’t secured the Bureau’s approval.
Mr. Kushner, frustrated about the security clearance issue and concerned that Mr. Kelly has targeted him personally with the directive, has told colleagues at the White House that he is reluctant to give up his high-level access, the officials said. In the talks, the officials say, Mr. Kushner has insisted that he maintain his current level of access, including the ability to review the daily intelligence briefing when he sees fit.
But Mr. Kelly, who has been privately dismissive of Mr. Kushner since taking the post of chief of staff but has rarely taken him on directly, has made no guarantees, saying only that the president’s son-in-law will still have all the access he needs to do his job under the new system.
… Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump have been critical of Mr. Kelly in conversations with the president, who spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., surveying people about whether he should fire his chief of staff.
On the other hand, Kushner is the exact sort of White House hire that the background check process is intended to thwart. Kushner has been forced to revise his disclosure form regarding foreign contacts three separate times — on each occasion because he had failed to “remember” certain conversations he’d had with foreign entities. His family is massively indebted due to a poor investment decision that he made; must secure hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital by early 2019 to avoid a financial calamity; and has spent much of the past year seeking such a windfall investment from entities tied to foreign governments.
During the transition period, Kushner (reportedly) met with the chairman of the Chinese firm Anbang Insurance, in hopes of securing a $400 million investment in his family’s flagship property at 666 Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, Kushner’s company also (reportedly) sought $500 million in capital from the former prime minister of Qatar for the same project. Around that same time, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, head of Russia’s state-run Vnesheconombank, for a conversation that Kushner insists was strictly political — and that Gorkov says was strictly business.
All of which is to say: Kushner has repeatedly misled the FBI about his contacts with foreign governments; sought a $500 million business deal with an entity tied to the greatest strategic threat to the United States right before he moved into the White House; and is, ostensibly, vulnerable to bribery from any foreign government willing to nudge some capital toward his family’s troubled asset at 666 Fifth Avenue.
Oh, and he also has no relevant experience or skills for the position he’s been given.
Kushner is precisely the sort of dangerous, nepotism hire that is supposed to lose his White House gig the moment the FBI subjects him to scrutiny. But in the Trump era, dangerous nepotism is in — and so, if he sticks his guns, Kelly may soon be out.