From top secret to secret: What Kushner's clearance downgrade means

President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was among those White House officials to see their security clear...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 11:06 AM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 11:06 AM

President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was among those White House officials to see their security clearances downgraded, a potentially significant setback for a senior White House adviser.

The change came as sources told CNN that White House chief of staff John Kelly moved to downgrade temporary clearances for top White House staffers as concerns about overreliance on interim security clearances boiled over after staff secretary Rob Porter's resignation following domestic abuse allegations earlier this month. Porter has denied the allegations.

The gulf between secret and top secret clearance is significant, and the move would cut back on what information Kushner can access, meaning the aide who until recently had access to some of the nation's most closely guarded intelligence will, for the time being, have to work with less.

What Kushner can see now

A top staffer and trusted confidant, Kushner was operating with access to information at the highest levels of secrecy, and the change means those materials at the highest level would be out of his reach.

For example, CNN reported that the downgrade in Kushner's clearance status would prevent him from viewing the President's Daily Brief, a collection of some of the nation's most vital intelligence compiled for the President each day.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week in response to news of Kelly issuing a directive on clearances that "nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work Jared is doing."

And Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell wrote in a statement: "As General Kelly himself said, the new clearance policy will not affect Mr. Kushner's ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President."

But CNN national security analyst John Kirby, who worked as spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department in the Obama administration, said he did not see how Kushner, who the White House has advertised as being at the center of the Israel-Palestinan peace process, would be unaffected by the shift.

"This would seem to be crippling," Kirby said.

Kirby said information at the secret level not only contained less detail and nuance than information classified top secret, but also that some events would be referred to only at the top secret level.

"It's not just about the degree of complexity," he said.

Referring to Kushner, Kirby said there would be whole areas of information "that he's not going to get to see."

But Kirby said others might be less affected in their day-to-day jobs than Kushner would be for his reported duties.

"Sometimes there can be really useful intelligence at the confidential level or at the secret level," Kirby said.

Kirby stressed that access to classified information required people to both have the appropriate clearance level and the need to access the information.

For many situations, he said, a secret clearance would be enough.

Millions have clearances

CNN contributor Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, said it should ring alarm bells that Kushner has been unable to receive a permanent security clearance, and said it was duly notable because of "how many people are successfully able to receive that clearance."

The size of the population with security clearances is large. A 2015 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence pegged the total at 2,885,570 people for confidential and secret clearances and 1,363,483 for top secret clearances.

Scrutinizing so many people for clearances is a major challenge for the government, and a Government Accountability Office report last year called for widespread reform to the clearance system, given its backlog and other issues outlined. Dan Coats, the current DNI, addressed concerns at a hearing earlier this month, saying the process for security clearances is "broken."

Trump himself has brushed up against government classification, opting to declassify a Republican memo alleging surveillance abuses earlier this year, and at an Oval Office meeting last year, he shared classified information with top Russian officials.

Asked if Trump might exercise his declassification ability when it came to overriding the Kushner situation, Vladeck said Trump has the authority to do so, but that it would be "unprecedented and quite politically controversial."

"Even though this is wholly within the executive branch, there are long standing rules and regulations governing the security clearance process to ensure they are not manipulated by political reasons," Vladeck said. "For the President to override that process would be to throw that understanding into the garbage."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 847659

Reported Deaths: 16172
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1163752005
Mobile743371381
Madison53434738
Shelby38413371
Baldwin38171589
Tuscaloosa36131643
Montgomery34571782
Lee25664264
Calhoun22622519
Morgan22527408
Etowah20059520
Marshall18821318
Houston17769426
St. Clair16946359
Limestone16192220
Cullman16140305
Elmore15948295
Lauderdale15055307
Talladega14244302
DeKalb13061271
Walker12138380
Blount10765193
Autauga10545157
Jackson10204195
Coffee9435192
Colbert9363210
Dale9038192
Tallapoosa7283202
Russell710165
Chilton7078170
Covington6967197
Escambia6962144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5795142
Marion5435130
Dallas5302210
Pike5128109
Clarke485686
Lawrence4845130
Winston4785110
Geneva4650136
Bibb435495
Barbour370180
Butler3444101
Marengo342793
Monroe338366
Randolph337767
Pickens334790
Fayette331485
Henry321066
Cherokee319964
Hale318889
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252069
Macon245767
Conecuh193562
Coosa185847
Wilcox178338
Lowndes178268
Bullock152745
Perry141840
Sumter139741
Greene130345
Choctaw94328
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