By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he will leave it to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to settle a security clearance dispute involving son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner, but left little doubt he wants the case settled in a way that allows Kushner to keep his job.
Problems with security clearance for White House aides surfaced this month in fallout over the abrupt resignation of White House staff secretary Rob Porter over allegations of domestic abuse against two former wives.
Kushner is one of dozens of aides operating under an interim clearance, not yet fully cleared due to complications in their backgrounds. In the case of Kushner, a wealthy New York businessman, his financial links have taken a long time to examine.
Kelly a week ago set Friday as the deadline for adjudicating the cases of Kushner and others in clearance limbo. A source familiar with the matter said earlier this week that the situation had caused tensions between Kushner and Kelly.
Trump, at a joint news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said “General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call” on how to resolve the issue.
With Kelly seated nearby, Trump said: “I have no doubt he will make the right decision.”
Trump heaped praise on Kushner, a leader in the administration’s attempts to resurrect moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He noted that Kushner does not receive a salary.
White House officials have been trying to smooth over the dispute in a way that would allow Kushner to continue his work, the source familiar with the matter said.
The source said there were frustrations on both sides between Kushner and Kelly and they wanted to find a solution.
Trump has the option of simply granting a security clearance to Kushner but officials wanted to avoid that option. There was no sense that Kushner would be leaving his job.
Options included giving Kushner a lesser clearance that would allow him to keep doing his job.
Kelly said in a statement on Thursday that he would not comment one anyone’s specific security clearance situation.
“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. Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the President’s agenda. There is no truth to any suggestion otherwise,” Kelly said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and David Gregorio)