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Reports indicate Trump ordered Kushner’s security clearance, despite concerns

President Trump is again facing questions about the security clearance of son-in-law Jared Kushner. Multiple news outlets reported this week that the president ordered John Kelly, then his chief of staff, to grant Kushner’s clearance despite concerns from intelligence officials about his financial dealings and foreign contacts. Judy Woodruff talks to Bloomberg’s Caleb Melby for the details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now: The latest controversy at the White House revolves around family, contradicting statements, ignored concerns and national security.

    The president was silent today amid new revelations about a trusted adviser. The New York Times and The Washington Post reported today that President Trump ordered that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, get a top-secret security clearance, despite concerns from his own chief of staff and intelligence officials.

    That contradicts what President Trump told The Times in January and what his daughter Ivanka told ABC last month.

  • Ivanka Trump:

    The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance. Zero.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the president on FOX News.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    The president has the absolute right to do what was described.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kushner had a temporary security clearance for more than a year, as his background check hit delays. Some White House officials expressed concerns over his past business dealings.

    During the transition, after the election in 2016, Kushner sought investments from Chinese, Russian and Qatari entities. His family's company had amassed more than a billion dollars in debt on a development in New York. He divested himself after he joined the White House.

  • Jared Kushner:

    The way that good legislation should be made in Washington is when everyone's at the table, everyone is arguing, everyone is fighting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Since joining the administration, Kushner has taken on a wide portfolio, ranging from criminal justice reform to Middle East peace. Just three days ago, Kushner met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, suspected of involvement in the murder of a journalist.

    He's also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom his family has ties. Kushner has had to update his federal disclosure forms at least 40 times to include contacts with foreign officials. Last year, The Washington Post reported foreign officials from four countries had discussed using Kushner's foreign and business ties to manipulate him.

    Today, a spokesman for Kushner's lawyer said; "The clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone."

    But investigations into Kushner's security clearance and the president's actions are under way. House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings has threatened to subpoena White House documents about clearance protocols if they are not submitted by Monday.

    So, what is it about Jared Kushner and his family's business that has raised questions as far back as during the 2016 campaign?

    Caleb Melby is part of the reporting team at Bloomberg News keeping track of the business and its workings.

    Caleb Melby, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    So, we know that the Kushner family has been involved in real estate and real estate development well before Donald Trump started running for president. Tell us what that business was, where was it.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Right.

    Long before the campaign, this was a real estate family that had grown up doing apartments in New Jersey, in Maryland, but right around, right before the financial crisis, they made a big move into New York and to Manhattan.

    And what that meant was they spent a record-breaking $1.8 billion on one particular office building, 666 5th Avenue here in New York. Then the market tanked and they were sitting on building that was absolutely drowning in debt. And that was a problem that they kind of kicked down the road for years and years.

    And it really started to come to a head during the campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So this all happened, as you said, years before Donald Trump started running for president. Why did it become an issue? Why did that — the debt keep building, putting them in a vulnerable position, how did that develop?

  • Caleb Melby:

    Yes.

    In 2011, they had an opportunity to refinance their debt, slightly more generous terms to try and help them turn things around. But they failed. And as Trump started running for president, they decided to go for a moon shot plan, and they wanted to knock their building down and build another twice as tall in its place.

    And there weren't too many investors here in the U.S. who would even look at a plan like that, and that meant they would have to go overseas. And,really, the place they saw the most interest was China, and they talked to a company there, Anbang Insurance Group, and were very close to putting together a deal to save their building before the debt was due in February of this year, actually.

    But that fell through. They had talks with Qataris, with Saudis, with a French billionaire, with a Korean sovereign wealth fund. They really went all over the globe looking for somebody to help them save this building.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you have reported, Caleb Melby, that was still going on just as Donald Trump was being elected president.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Yes, absolutely.

    Jared and his family were having advanced negotiations with the Chinese firm Anbang. After that fell through and Jared entered the White House, his father and other members of his family and of his company continued to have conversations with Qatari officials, both the sovereign wealth fund in that country and also other private businesses there as well.

    Those conversations basically led right up to the point in time when Qatar's neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a blockade of Qatar, which Trump and the administration supported, which everybody thought was odd, because Qatar is historically a U.S. ally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, all of this — what all this adds up to is, it would have presented a real potential conflict of interest for Jared Kushner.

  • Caleb Melby:

    We see his family having conversations with sovereign entities at roughly the same time he, in his broad mandate to oversee Middle East policy, is making decisions about those self same countries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we don't know — I mean, we're not being told by government officials what it was that was holding up the security clearance.

    But we can assume that this had something serious — that there was something about this that was related to that?

  • Caleb Melby:

    Certainly, there are questions outstanding about that business deal, even right now, as we're trying to figure out exactly how that security clearance came to be.

    We don't know what was discussed in those meetings between, say, Jared's father and the Qataris or between Jared and the Chinese firm Anbang as President Trump was coming to power either.

    And that's — when we talk about conflict of interest, that's really what we're talking about, right, which is having parallel private business interests and public decision-making opportunities, and not quite understanding where the lines between the two blur.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we were saying, all this while Jared Kushner has taken on the Middle East portfolio. He's meeting with the Israelis. He's meeting with the Saudis, with the Qataris, and just a lot of question marks about where interests lie.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Yes, absolutely.

    Having him go and visit Mohammed bin Salman right now to try and get everybody on board for his Middle East peace plan, that's somebody he's developed a very close relationship with and somebody who also has control over a sovereign wealth fund, the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of questions around this, and we will continue to ask them. And we appreciate your reporting.

    Caleb Melby with Bloomberg News, thank you.

  • Caleb Melby:

    Thanks for having me.

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