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The Briefing: Why Jared Kushner is in trouble

WASHINGTON — The president's son-in-law, who is one of his top aides, can't be trusted with the government's top secrets.

That's the bottom line behind the news that Jared Kushner, who handles a variety of issues for the Trump administration ranging from business innovation to Middle East peace, has been denied the government's top-level security clearance.

Think about that for a minute: One of the president's top aides can't be trusted with the nation's top secrets.

And if you're wondering why, check out this revelatory piece from the Washington Post. In a nutshell, U.S. intelligence agents came across evidence that officials from at least four nations discussed ways of manipulating Kushner to their advantage.

The United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico were among the nation's that aimed to capitalize on Kushner's lack of government experience and his complex business ties, sources told the Post.

How bad was it? Check out this paragraph from the Post's report:

Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked” in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official.

Note the last line in that paragraph: one former White House official said. In case you might think Kushner's security clearance fell prey to some sort of deep-state conspiracy, then some former White House official was part of the deep state.

That's hugely unlikely. The Trump White House leaks like the Lusitania, and it's widely known that anti-Kushner leaks usually come from two circles of influence. Those close to chief of staff John F. Kelly — a by-the-book military guy — have been known to have concerns about Kushner and have not been shy about saying so. And the same goes for those close to former White House aide Steve Bannon, the very guy who pushed the idea that a "deep state" of entrenched career officials is out to get President Trump.

It's important, too, to note how unusual this situation is. In 29 years in Washington, I can never recall a White House aide as high-ranking as Kushner having such a security-clearance problem, save for Rob Porter, the Trump aide who recently lost his job amid revelations of spousal abuse. And in a search of the Nexis database, I couldn't find any quick evidence of any similar circumstance in any other administration in the past 20 years.

And yet Kushner wasn't even the only White House aide to see his security clearance downgraded from top secret to secret.

What happens with Kushner now is anyone's guess. He still has a security clearance, just not the top one that would let him in on the government's top intelligence secrets. And Kushner is expected to continue to try to broker a Middle East peace deal despite his current troubles.

Perhaps most importantly, Kushner is extraordinarily close to President Trump, and a close relationship with the president is the best protection any embattled aide in any administration can ever have — with the possible exception of family ties.

Happening today

President Trump travels to the Capitol for a ceremony honoring the late Rev. Billy Graham, and then he meets with lawmakers at the White House to discuss community and school safety. ... Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort appears at an arraignment hearing and status conference in U.S. District Court. ... The Supreme Court hears arguments in an important case on whether a Minnesota ban on political apparel at the polling place violates the First Amendment. ... The Senate considers nominations for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and a federal judgeship in South Carolina, but the House is out of session for the rest of the week.

Good reads

The New York Times profiles the AR-15, the semiautomatic assault rifle used in the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting and many others. ... The Washington Post uncovers how conspiracy theories sprung up on the internet after the Parkland shootings. ... Politico tells us that President Trump's infrastructure plan is in trouble on Capitol Hill. ... At Foreign Policy magazine, a former Clinton White House aide tries to debunk arguments that there is a military readiness crisis. ... And for Buffalo News readers who were touched by this story on Yazidi refugees in Buffalo, the New Yorker looks at how Yazidis in America helped save their brethren in Iraq.

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