President Donald Trump's placid press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took an interesting turn Friday afternoon when a reporter from the Washington Examiner asked the president about his son-in-law Jared Kushner's future in the West Wing.
Great question @gabriellahope_.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 23, 2018
And the president, as he often does, surprised his audience by offering a rambling non-answer, saying he'd ultimately leave the decision of whether to grand a waiver in the hands of Chief of Staff John Kelly. This is the first time the president or anyone from the White House communications department has offered a clue as to its thinking about Kelly's new policy.
A week ago, Kelly announced that he would soon begin revoking temporary security clearances from the dozens of senior administration employees who still don't have them - and Kushner, who is in charge of a large portfolio of responsibilities, is probably the most senior among them.
Asked whether he would give Kushner a security clearance, Trump praises his son-in-law and senior adviser as a hard-working and "extraordinary" man, and doesn't answer the question. "Gen. Kelly will make that call. ... I have no doubt he'll make the right decision."— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) February 23, 2018
Trump repeatedly referred to Kushner as an "outstanding" and "extremely talented and extremely smart" young man who - by the way - is working without pay. Trump spoke highly of Kushner's work ethic and devotion to bettering the country, but also admitted that he would leave the question of whether to grant Kushner a waiver up to Kelly, saying "I have no doubt he'll make the right decision" and that Kelly "would do what's right for the country."
"He is truly outstanding. He was very successful when he was in the private sector. He is working on peace in the middle east," Trump said.
"He's a high-quality person. He works for nothing. No one ever reports that. But he gets zero," the president said.
That's the strongest indication yet - throughout more than a year of governing - that Trump might be willing to countenance the departure of Kushner, who, apart from being one of his closest advisers, is also a close family member.
Trump also alluded to the possibility of launching a nuclear strike - or some other devastating attack - on North Korea, the first time he's used such harsh language in a while. He said if sanctions fail to stop the North's nuclear program, the North and the global community won't like "phase two", which would be "very rough."
He also reaffirmed his preference for "bilateral" trade deals, while lauding Australia's help in the battle against ISIS. He later added that he respects Chinese President Xi Jinping but the Chinese are "killing us" on trade.
Of course, Kelly could certainly decide to grant Kushner the waiver, bowing to the implicit pressure from his mercurial boss.
Asked by the administration's response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Trump said the administration would do "a lot", including arming teachers, whom Trump said would be more effective defenders of children than security cards because the teachers "love the children".
"A security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children," the president said. "This guy standing outside the school doesn't know the children, probably doesn't love the children."
Earlier Friday, CNN reported that White House officials have been working to devise a plan that would allow Kushner to continue in his role of handling sensitive foreign policy matters without forcing the president to personally intervene in the process of granting Kushner a security clearance.