Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE
The New York Times reported on Thursday that President Donald Trump “ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer.” Even though the decision could pose serious national security risks, Fox News shows either ignored or downplayed the report.
On February 28, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered top-level security clearances for Kushner despite opposition and concerns from the FBI, the CIA, the White House counsel, and his then-chief of staff John Kelly. According to the Times, “Officials had raised questions about [Kushner’s] own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners.” Kushner regularly expressed his frustration to Trump, but when the White House counsel’s office recommended to the president in May that Kushner not be given a top-secret clearance, Trump “ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway.” The Washington Post released a separate investigation on the topic later that day, confirming the Times report.
Kushner’s clearance had been held up for over a year and was even “downgraded from interim top secret to secret” in February 2018. But after he was given the top-security clearance, the White House claimed that the president was not involved in the security clearance process. Kushner’s lawyer said that his client followed a standard process. Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife and Trump’s eldest daughter who also serves as a senior adviser in the White House, said only a few weeks ago that Trump “had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.” Ivanka also pushed back on reports that Kushner had trouble receiving a clearance, dismissing them as “anonymous leaks.” In a January interview with the Times, Trump also repeatedly denied being involved in the security process, saying that he “was never involved with the security.”
Trump’s decision to sidestep security processes posed egregious national security risks, and it was an insult to public servants who have to go through the standard process. But Fox News failed to emphasize the seriousness of his decision. Most of the network’s shows ignored the report entirely, and those that did cover it worked to downplay the story’s significance. On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business analyst Ed Rollins dismissed the report, saying, “Ultimately, the president has the right to clear anybody he wants to clear.” He added, “The bottom line is we should be grateful [Kushner is] there.”
On The Ingraham Angle, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who says he was pushed off the presidential transition team over his personal conflict with Kushner, said that the “president had the absolute right to give a security clearance to whoever he wanted to,” but that the real issue is that Trump and Ivanka repeatedly lied about it. Host Laura Ingraham argued that Ivanka “might not have any knowledge of any of this” before conceding, “We all commit unforced errors in our lives, and it’s an unforced error if the reporting is accurate.”
On Fox News @ Night, host Shannon Bream mentioned the report for less than 20 seconds.
On the March 1 edition of Fox & Friends, Christie talked about the report in a segment that lasted for about one minute and 30 seconds. Christie again asserted that “ordering the clearance is not problematic” and that “the problem is they didn’t tell the truth.”
America’s Newsroom aired one brief segment on Kushner’s denial of the report. When asked about the story, White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway replied, “We don’t discuss security clearances.” Later in the show, Fox News host Chris Wallace discussed the report and described Conway’s comments as “a classic non-denial denial,” pointing out that Ivanka and others have discussed the security clearance in the past. Wallace also pointed out that if the report was “false, if in fact the president hadn’t been involved, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t say that. They have no qualms about saying when news is fake, when [there’s] reporting they think is inaccurate. They are not saying that about this story, so I think that speaks for itself.
On Outnumbered, the five-person panel sought to justify Trump's actions, with co-host Melissa Francis asking, "Why are they continuing to make a big deal out of this story?" Co-host Morgan Ortagus said she would have liked the report to discuss whether Clinton officials lost their security clearances while she was secretary of state.
On Outnumbered Overtime, host Harris Faulkner mentioned the report briefly in a segment that lasted less than one minute.
Media Matters looked at Fox News segments from when the Times' report was published on February 28 until 2 pm on March 1.