Every day in the United States of Trump brings fresh novelties. The latest comes to us in a report yesterday from CBS News that the President-elect is seeking top-secret security clearances for his adult children: Eric, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Reports are conflicting, however. An unnamed Trump transition official, speaking to the press this morning and perhaps reacting to overnight criticism, was paraphrased as saying, “it wasn’t something he was expecting right now.”
If such a request comes at a later date, as this suggests, the Trump children will be required, like all other citizens seeking clearances, to fill out the standard security questionnaire, the SF-86, and go through the requisite background checks.
Usually such investigations take months and entail disgorging information about many personal things, including foreign ties. Since the Trump Organization has investments all over the world — including in unfriendly locales like China and, probably, despite denials, in Russia — and the children have been intimately involved in running the family business, the background checks could get rather complicated.
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But if President Trump issues the order following Inauguration Day, it will presumably go through with a mere wave of his hand and without the formalities.
Of course, such an order would raise also sorts of questions, and not a few red flags.
One issue is what role this would presage for the children in the Trump administration? A top-secret clearance gives its holder access to government information the disclosure of which would lead to “exceptionally grave damage” to national security. What might prompt Trump to give his offspring the ability to rummage around in this ultra-sensitive material?
One answer is that Trump comes to the presidency with a set of unique deficiencies. Not only is he out of his depth in foreign affairs — a fact made frightfully evident in the presidential debates and even more frightfully in interviews with the Washington Post and the New York Times — but he has few resources on which he can draw to remedy his deficiencies. He is evidently not a reader of books or even memos and has no close friends, let alone friends with experience in the security or diplomatic arena with whom he could chew the fat.
Yet Trump is entering a realm in which he desperately needs reliable advice. So he may do as kings and queens have done in days of yore: turn to those on whose loyalty he can absolutely depend — the royal bloodline.
But for those in the bloodline to help Trump as he grapples with the future of our kingdom, they have to be armed with information. If they are in the dark, they can do little more than hold his hand. They need to be getting the same classified briefings he is hearing. If Trump were to clue his children in without getting them clearances, he would be committing the very crime that he accuses Hillary Clinton of engaging in: violation of the Espionage Act.
The only alternative is to grant them top-secret access.
Of course, other less savory motives could also be at work. It is no secret that the Trump brand has suffered what is possibly a catastrophic hit from Trump’s polarizing conduct over the past year. Bookings at Trump hotels are reported to have plunged 59% in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Foot traffic is down sharply as well. As they manage the Trump Organization on which their fortunes depend, Trump and the children are under intense pressure to rebuild.
Various arms of the U.S. government, from the Treasury to the Department of Commerce to the CIA, collect reams upon reams of commercial intelligence for governmental purposes. Access to such information — which a security clearance will bestow — would be exceeding useful to the Trump children as they manage the “blind trust” into which the Trump Organization is going to be placed.
Given that it will not actually be a blind trust in any meaningful definition of the term, the children could profit handsomely from access to the latest world developments as they seek to refurbish the Trump label.
It goes without saying, of course, that individuals of sterling quality would never abuse classified information for personal enrichment. It also goes without saying that Trump’s children are of sterling quality. Even Hillary Clinton called them “incredibly able.” Never mind that over the past decade or so they have been intimately involved in almost all of their father’s myriad scams, ranging from Trump University to the wholly customized but totally fraudulent naturopathic vitamin regimen, marketed to dupes by an entity called the Trump Network. And never mind that Ivanka Trump is already hawking $10,800 bracelets based upon her appearance with the President-elect on “60 Minutes.”
Or perhaps a grateful nation should simply be thrilled at the prospect that Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., would simultaneously manage the Trump Organization — for profit — and work to protect our national security for free. Once they are fully briefed on our nation’s commercial and other secrets, no one will be better equipped to do both jobs at once.
Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is the author of, among other books, “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media and the Rule of Law.”