Outside the circle of trust
Why couldn’t Jared Kushner get a permanent security clearance after more than a year in the White House? In part, it’s because some foreign officials — with reason — saw Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser as an easy mark, according to The Washington Post. He has now had his clearance downgraded.
Officials in at least four countries privately discussed ways they could manipulate Kushner by exploiting his complex business ties, financial woes and inexperience in foreign policy, current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports told the Post.
It wasn’t clear if any of the officials from the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico followed through.
Meanwhile, H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report.
White House officials were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” by foreign officials, including some who said they wanted to deal only with him.
Before Trump took office, Kushner met with would-be Chinese and Qatari investors seeking financing for his family’s debt-plagued Manhattan office tower.
In the don’t-know
Kushner isn’t the only White House official to have his clearance downgraded after a review by chief of staff John Kelly, but he’s the most prominent.
Trump had given the real estate heir a wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities, including bringing peace to the Middle East. Losing access to sensitive intelligence will be a hindrance, former State Department peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told The New York Times.
“He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and now he cannot find out,” Miller said.
The news of Kelly’s decision set off speculation among Trump allies that Kushner’s days in the White House might be numbered, The Associated Press reported.
The shake-up came after the White House was sharply criticized for keeping aide Rob Porter in his job — with an interim clearance — after an FBI vetting investigation turned up allegations from two ex-wives that he assaulted them.
Tougher on Russia?
Trump has said that he has been “tougher on Russia” than Barack Obama was. But a top intelligence official testified Tuesday that neither the president nor Defense Secretary James Mattis has authorized him to step up measures to counter Russian meddling in U.S. politics.
“I’ve never been given any specific direction to take additional steps outside my authority,” said Adm. Mike Rogers, director of both the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.
“I believe that President [Vladimir] Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay,” Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Clearly, what we have done hasn’t been enough.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was looking at ways to prevent Moscow’s meddling.
Janison: Putin’s Potomac chum
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s name popped up in the guilty plea last week of former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates. It may not be the last time, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation continues, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
The California Republican has long been a reliable friend of Russia on Capitol Hill. He has endorsed Moscow’s military strong-arming of its neighbors as far back as 2008, when Russian troops entered Georgia. In 2012, the FBI reportedly warned the congressman that Russian agents were looking to recruit him as an “agent of influence.”
His reported contact with figures said to factor in the investigation include WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and the Kremlin-linked lawyer who dangled dirt on Hillary Clinton to meet with Donald Trump Jr. Nobody has accused Rohrabacher, a Trump ally, of wrongdoing.
Gun push jams
Senate Republican leaders are promoting a narrow bill they hope to pass this week to strengthen background checks on gun buyers. Not up for quick discussion are Trump’s ideas — such as arming teachers, hardening schools and raising ages to buy some guns — nor Democrats’ proposals.
House Republicans may not go along with even that much unless it is paired with a measure requiring states with tough restrictions on concealed weapons to honor other states’ permits for visiting gun owners. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
The president’s idea for arming teachers faces another complication: In states that have tried it, insurers threatened to cancel schools’ policies or charge higher premiums because of “heightened liability risk,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Trump’s 2020 team
The president named a campaign manager for his 2020 re-election bid: Brad Parscale, who ran digital operations for his 2016 run, including sophisticated social media targeting. He previously had done web designs for the Trump family.
After the announcement, The Associated Press reported Parscale has a close financial relationship with a penny-stock firm with a questionable history and ties to a man convicted of securities fraud.
Turned to Stone
Speaking of 2016 digital operations: It turns out Trump-allied self-described dirty trickster Roger Stone had direct communication with fugitive internet leaker Julian Assange’s Wikileaks during the campaign, as The Atlantic describes.
Screen shots of the exchanges seem to contradict public statements by both parties.
What else is happening
- Hope Hicks, Trump’s longtime aide and communications director, refused to answer question covering her time in the White House in a closed-door session with the House intelligence committee.
- A federal judge in San Diego, who was attacked by Trump in 2016, has sided with the president on a challenge based on environmental law on building a border wall. When Judge Gonzalo Curiel presided over a Trump University suit, Trump charged Curiel’s Mexican ancestry made him biased against him.
- A Trump-owned golf club in Jupiter, Florida, has agreed to pay $5.45 million to settle claims from former members who said they were wrongfully denied refunds of their deposits.
- Truck safety stands to be affected as the administration rolls back transportation regulations, the Associated Press reports.
Panamanian police handcuffed a security guard working for the Trump-branded hotel in Panama City and drove him away as a standoff continued between Trump managers holed up there and the ownership, The Washington Post reports.
HUD officials spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017 — just as the White House circulated its plans to slash the department’s programs for the homeless, elderly and poor, The New York Times reported.
Anthony Scaramucci, a short-tenured predecessor of Hicks as communications director, has become a popular speaker for politically conservative Orthodox Jewish groups, a McClatchy story says. That “has puzzled even some people who are deeply entrenched in the community,” the report says.
Community organizers in Chicago of all people are mobilizing against President Barack Obama library plans on the South Side, Politico reports.