Jared Kushner got his permanent security clearance, but he could still be under scrutiny

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received his permanent security clearance after a wait of more than a year.
  • Kushner, a senior White House advisor, was interviewed for a second time by the special counsel last month.
  • Passing the background check doesn't necessarily clear him of any wrongdoing, experts say.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Jared Kushner finally received his permanent security clearance, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's escaped federal investigators' scrutiny.

Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said on Wednesday that his client had passed an FBI background check, which had held his permanent security clearance in abeyance for more than a year.

"Having completed these processes, Mr. Kushner is looking forward to continuing the work the President has asked him to do," Lowell said in a statement.

Lowell also revealed that Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, met with special counsel Robert Mueller's team for a second interview as part of the investigators' probe of potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

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That interview was conducted in April, Lowell told CNN — about a month before Kushner's permanent security clearance was granted.

Kushner, a senior White House advisor, sat with the special counsel for more than six hours in the interview, NBC News reported, citing a source familiar with the interview. He reportedly answered questions about Trump's presidential campaign, the post-election transition period and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

His first interview with Mueller's team, which was focused primarily on former national security advisor Michael Flynn, took place in November, according to NBC.

Different views 

The news seemed to bode well for Kushner, whose business dealings and past omissions to the government about his foreign contacts had been viewed by some as the reasons for his lengthy background review process.

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But former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti says he wouldn't go that far.

"It's safe to say this clearance would not have been granted if his name wasn't Jared Kushner," Mariotti said in an interview, referring to Kushner's relationship to the president. (Mariotti is a Democrat who is running for Illinois state attorney general.)

Kushner's family business debts have raised concerns that he is vulnerable to influence or manipulation in his role with the Trump administration. Kushner Companies' pursuit of business in China, for instance, has been viewed as a conflict of interest.

He also had to repeatedly update a security clearance form to include more than 100 contacts that were initially omitted — including some with foreign sources.

The form had been updated to include a meeting he attended with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, alongside Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign chief Paul Manafort.

The meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. as an opportunity to learn compromising information about Trump's political opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Mariotti said it's possible that the officials conducting the background check decided to grant his permanent security clearance because they believed the risk that his access could pose to the United States "was manageable, or not significant enough to deny him clearance."

But passing the background check doesn't necessarily clear him of any wrongdoing, Mariotti added. "I would tell him he should not assume that means he's out of the woods with Mueller."

Lowell did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Despite being a leading player in the Middle East peace process and U.S. relations with China, among other roles, Kushner maintained an interim security clearance that allowed him to access only high-level information.

His ability to view top secrets was reportedly downgraded in February by chief of staff John Kelly, who diminished the access of White House officials with interim clearances after former aide Rob Porter was accused of domestic abuse by two former wives.

Kushner's security clearance does suggest that, at the very least, the FBI does not consider him to be a foreign agent or untrustworthy with government secrets, said Steven Mulroy, a professor teaching constitutional law at the University of Memphis.

But Kushner could still face potential legal troubles over, for example, his initial failures to disclose contacts on his security form, Mulroy said. Although it may not pose an ongoing security threat, Mulroy said the question remains open whether Kushner broke the law with his omissions.

Mulroy also raised the possibility that Kushner's second meeting with the special counsel may have helped propel his background check to completion.

"It's possible that if Mueller thought Kushner was being cooperative and forthcoming, that might have allowed them to make a recommendation," Mulroy said.

Still, Mulroy said, "It doesn't mean he's completely in the clear."