Unless you’re Dudley Do-Right, or maybe special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions should terrify you.
The SF-86, as it’s called, is the bruising 127-page confessional required of all government employees seeking permanent security clearances. Before you can be trusted with state secrets, you need to be put through the moral wringer.
For an applicant, the SF-86 is the mythic “woodshed” in PDF form. It’s a place to face your whole shifty lifetime of corner-cutting, half-truths, pleasure-seeking and brazen misdeeds. Slept with a married colleague, defaulted on a J. Crew card, didn’t quite finish an online college course? There’s no hiding anything on the fearsome SF-86.
And you come clean, or risk imprisonment. It’s odd, then, that Jared Kushner’s almost numberless liaisons with foreign nationals — and his lies about them — didn’t land him in deep hot water. Instead, he was waved through to top-secret clearance.
Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and consigliere, made an eye-popping hundred-plus “mistakes” on his SF-86, a lot of them about Russians. These lies and contacts don’t bother his boss, who seems to have had his own — ahem — liaisons with foreign nationals.
It’s well known that Kushner had extreme difficulty getting his SF-86 right, and that he was granted multiple chances to try, try again to tell all. He at first left off that he had used a private email server for state business (as one does), and he failed to include all those meetings with foreign officials. They slipped his mind. One hundred times.
In February 2018, at a House Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., addressed Kusher’s SF-86 troubles. He asked Charles Phalen, director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, “Can you recall if there has ever been an applicant having to submit four addenda detailing over 100 errors and omissions being able to maintain their security clearance once those errors and omission have been identified?”
“I have never seen that level of mistakes,” Phalen replied.
But Kushner still got cleared.
On Jan. 24, NBC News revealed that, according to two sources “familiar with the matter,” Kushner had a benefactor: an ex-Pentagon official named Carl Kline.
Kline was hired by Trump to be the White House director of personnel security in May 2017. In May 2018, Kushner was suddenly determined safe for permanent secret and top secret clearances. (The highest level clearance, which is granted by the CIA, has been withheld from Kushner.)
According to NBC, Kline ignored the warnings of two career security specialists in the White House who had rejected Kushner’s application. They had suspicions that foreign powers, hostile and otherwise, might have influence over him.
(On Feb. 27, 2018, the Washington Post reported that, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, figures in the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico — and perhaps other countries — had privately discussed and even joked about ways they could exploit Kushner, preying on his financial difficulties, complex business arrangements and naivete about foreign policy.)
Sounds decidedly worse than a maxed-out J. Crew card, right? Not for lucky Jared. To those who follow the Kushner chronicles, the idea that the scion of a New Jersey real estate empire had his SF-86 rubber-stamped sounds familiar. Kushner had managed to hack at least one other entrance test that seemed beyond the scope of his own moral fiber and intellectual firepower.
In 1998, Jared’s father, Charles Kushner — who later served a year in an Alabama prison camp for crimes including witness tampering (he hired a prostitute to get kompromat on his brother-in-law) — donated $2.5 million to Harvard University. Shortly thereafter, Jared was admitted to Harvard, class of 2003.
A former official at Kushner’s high school was not pleased: “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought (Jared) would on the merits get into Harvard,” the official told Daniel Golden, the author of “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.”
“His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted.”
The family denies any quid pro quo, and presumably, no one can take away Kushner’s Harvard participation trophy — I mean degree. But recently a pair of House Democrats — Don Beyer of Virginia and Ted Lieu of California — called on acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to revoke Kushner’s security clearance altogether.
Seems like a decent first step. Kushner, like his father and his father-in-law, has skated once too often.
Kushner has no business “playing government,” in the words of former Chief of Staff John F. Kelly: angling for a secure channel with the Kremlin during the Trump transition, communicating with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in a way that reportedly worries the Pentagon and the State Department, horse-trading for a dead-in-the-water border wall compromise.
Anyone who needed as many do-overs on his SF-86 as Kushner should not be touching national security issues, much less taking foreign policy into his hands. In this administration, Kushner’s freestyling has gotten him promoted, not indicted. So far.
Heffernan is an L.A. Times columnist.