President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, has lost access to top-secret information after his security clearance was downgraded along with that of dozens of other White House aides whose background checks had yet to be completed, according to a person familiar with the process.
Kushner's security clearance was reduced to secret, restricting what intelligence reports and sensitive information he is allowed to see. That could inhibit his work on an extensive portfolio in the White House that includes the Middle East, China and relations with Mexico.
The change comes after White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly set out to revamp the security clearance process and crack down on the unusually large number of advisors whose background checks remained incomplete or had raised questions. Kelly did so after Trump's staff secretary, Rob Porter, resigned following allegations of spousal abuse, information that had kept Porter from getting a permanent clearance.
Kelly declined to confirm the action in Kushner's case. "I will not comment on anybody's specific security clearance situation or go beyond the memo released last week," he said in a statement Tuesday.
He added that he had "full confidence" in Kushner's "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."
Similarly, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, without confirming any change in Kushner's clearance status, told reporters, "He's a valued member of the team, and he will continue to do the important work that he's been doing since he started in the administration."
Kushner's permanent security clearance was held up for months as the investigators reviewed his contacts with foreign officials and financial dealings to confirm he would not be a security risk or susceptible to blackmail.
The president did not immediately comment on the development, which was first reported in Politico, as it became public Tuesday. Trump has authority to grant anyone a permanent security clearance, but on Friday he said that he would leave the decision to Kelly.
During a Friday news conference, Trump said, "Gen. Kelly respects Jared a lot, and Gen. Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call."
In that Friday session with reporters, the president underscored the awkwardness that Kushner's situation presented for Kelly, by effusively complimenting his son-in-law and expressing great faith in Kushner's abilities.
Trump also signaled that he expects Kushner's White House service to be a long-term prospect.
"The hardest deal to make of any kind is between the Israelis and the Palestinians," Trump said. "But Jared Kushner's right in the middle of that, and he's an extraordinary deal maker. And if he does that, that will be an incredible accomplishment and a very important thing for our country."
On Tuesday, Kushner's lawyer, well-known Washington attorney Abbe Lowell, emphasized his client's cooperation with investigators.
"As to his security clearance, Mr. Kushner has done more than what is expected of him in this process," Lowell wrote in an email response to questions.
Lowell would not comment on the status of Kushner's clearance. He wrote, however, that "those involved in the process again have confirmed that there are dozens of people at Mr. Kushner's level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for these clearance reviews to take this long in a new administration, and that the current backlogs are now being addressed.
"No concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner's application," Lowell said.
For Kushner, the change in designation means he no longer has access to the president's daily briefing, which includes the most sensitive intelligence information and goes only to the president and to select senior advisors. Still, despite Trump's announced intent not to get involved in the question of Kushner's access, the president has the last word about who can be in the room with him when intelligence officials share the briefing with the commander-in-chief.
The new restriction on Kushner comes amid reports and speculation that Kelly has wanted to limit his influence in the White House, after the two have clashed over Kushner's access to the president and Kelly's concerns about Kushner's inexperience in government and international affairs.
Background investigators have had a lot to sift through in Kushner's application, given his wealth and expansive business dealings. Their work has been further complicated by Kushner's repeated failure to file complete information.
While running his family's real estate firm, Kushner Cos., Kushner regularly solicited foreign investors and developed relationships with senior officials in China, Mexico and several Middle Eastern countries, relationships Kushner would be asked to explain and document during the clearance process.
While Kushner played a prominent role in Trump's campaign, his company was actively seeking foreign investment from wealthy investors from China and Qatar, among other countries.
The White House has been bogged down for weeks since the Porter scandal, fielding questions about the temporary clearances for dozens of advisors, and the morass probably doesn't end with Kushner's downgrade. Investigators are working to clear the backlog of requests for permanent clearances, and any of them could potentially require additional review as issues arise.
Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and Obama administration official who now serves as director of policy and communication for National Security Action, an advocacy group opposed to Trump's foreign policy, expressed doubt that Kushner could do the wide-ranging job that the president has given him without top clearance.
"You cannot immerse yourself deeply in national security — especially issues as sensitive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our relationship with China — without access to top-secret information," Price said. "Anyone who says otherwise is blowing smoke."
The Republican-controlled Congress has taken notice of the administration's backlog. The House Oversight Committee requested information from the White House on the "policies, practices and procedures" of issuing the interim clearances. Sanders wouldn't say Tuesday whether the White House intends to comply with those requests.
4:50 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.