No, having a top secret security clearance while being in a private sector business is not a conflict of interest. In fact, the idea that the Trump kids would have some sort of conflict of interest with running the private sector Trump Organization and advising their presidential Dad is just wrong — because this is already standard operating procedure in Washington.
Take retired Army General John Abizaid, the former head of the U.S. Central Command (or CENTCOM, in Pentagonese). The General sits these days as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board or PIAB.
The mission of PIAB as described by the White House is as follows, with bold print for emphasis supplied:
The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), with its component Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), is an independent element within the Executive Office of the President.
The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board exists exclusively to assist the President by providing the President with an independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the Intelligence Community is meeting the nation’s intelligence needs, and the vigor and insight with which the community plans for the future. The Board has access to all information needed to perform its functions and has direct access to the President.
The Intelligence Oversight Board oversees the Intelligence Community’s compliance with the Constitution and all applicable laws, Executive Orders, and Presidential Directives. It complements and supplements, rather than duplicates the oversight roles of the Director of National Intelligence, Department and Agency Inspectors General and General Counsels, and the Congressional Oversight Committees.
For more than five decades the PIAB has acted as a nonpartisan body, offering the President objective, expert advice on the conduct of U.S. intelligence.
Catch that line? This one: “The Board has access to all information needed to perform its functions and has direct access to the President.”
Which is to say the PIAB’s members have a top secret security clearance.
General Abizaid, as mentioned, is retired. And as is frequently and totally normal he is, like Donald Trump’s children, involved in the private sector. To be specific, the General sits on the board of directors of RPM International. The company describes itself as follows:
RPM International Inc. owns subsidiaries that manufacture and market high-performance coatings, sealants and specialty chemicals, primarily for maintenance and improvement applications.
RPM employs more than 13,000 people worldwide and operates 120 manufacturing facilities in 24 countries. Its products are sold in approximately 170 countries and territories.
Fiscal 2016 sales were $4.8 billion, with 66 percent to industrial and specialty markets worldwide and the remaining 34 percent to consumers mainly in North America.
Not to put too fine a point on it but that’s only one private sector tie for the General. Abizaid is a senior partner in JPA Partners LLC — his own company. What does it do? JPA is, quoting from its website “An International Strategic Consulting Firm Headed by General John Abizaid.” The company site also says this:
JPA Partners, LLC, enhances the value and furthers the objectives of our clients through personalized business consultation. Our service is provided in a focused and timely manner, based on the highest integrity and professional standards. Please explore our site and find out what JPA Partners, LLC can do for your business.
In other words? In other words, there is a retired U.S. Army General, a one-time commander of CENTCOM, sitting on President Obama’s own Intelligence Advisory Board with, again according to the White House, “access to all information needed to perform its functions and has direct access to the President.” Not only does he head up his own international private sector company — JPA Partners — he sits on the board of directors of yet another private sector company, RPM International. And, of course, the General is not alone. Over the years any number of private sector individuals have sat on the PIAB and received top secret clearances.
And no one in Washington blinks.
Nor should they. The General has done — is doing — absolutely nothing wrong. He has his own private company — as do the Trumps — and he has, right there in the Obama White House, a top secret security clearance that is “needed to perform” the functions of the PIAB. On top of which he has “direct access to the President.”
The point is obvious. President-elect Trump wants his personal advisers — in this case his three oldest children plus son-in-law Jared Kushner — to have top secret clearances. As things stand at the moment, it is possible Mr. Kushner may wind up with a formal job in the White House, with his wife and two brothers-in-law staying on to run the Trump Organization in Dad’s presidential absence.
As with the case of General Abizaid, there is absolutely nothing wrong or unusual about presidential advisers having a security clearance while remaining in the private sector. There is no “conflict of interest.” There is only a change of presidents and presidential advisers.
To say the least, the latter — the change of presidents — is what rubs some in Washington (OK, more than some) the wrong way. But in the words of President Obama, “the people have spoken.” And so they have.
Give the Trumps security clearances and move on.