The explosive, seven-page National Security memo that led to the firing of former staffer Rich Higgins last month is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.
Following earlier reports that detailed its more alarming components, Foreign Policy on Thursday got its hands on a full transcript of the memo and published it online. In addition to radical language and the myriad references to “deep state” conspiracies and government subversion, the memo also unintentionally exposed the remaining close ties between the Trump administration and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a supposed outsider with no formal White House title.
According to two sources who spoke with the outlet, Trump Jr. was one of the people who received the emailed memo, despite not having the proper security clearance or any official position in the Trump administration that would warrant such a transmission. (It wasn’t exactly clear whether Higgins had intended to include him on the list of recipients.) Trump Jr. later passed the message to his father, who reportedly “gushed over it.”
Aside from the obvious security issues surrounding a non-NSC staffer being privy to internal communications, the fact that Trump Jr. then relayed the message to his father flies in the face of the president’s earlier promises to keep his business ties and White House duties separate.
Trump initially claimed that his two sons would solely be responsible for running the Trump Organization empire and would not be party to any official government business, for ethics reasons, after he became president. Of course, the lines soon began to blur.
“I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children,” the president tweeted back in November, following reports that his team had requested special permissions for Trump Jr., younger son Eric, and daughter Ivanka. “This was a typically false news story.”
Although both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner were, in fact, granted security clearance for their advisory roles in the White House later on, both Trump Jr. and Eric supposedly remained outside the official loop, in order to maintain a clean divide between confidential White House business and the Trump Organization’s ongoing ventures.
It was a fine line that Trump Jr. walked frequently. As Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn wrote back in March, “[Trump’s] adult sons have no responsibility to stay out of politics while they mind the family business… They say they’re following the letter of an ethics arrangement that states they’re not to talk about the family business with their dad, and in turn that the president shouldn’t discuss government business with his sons or the company’s executives.”
For his part, Trump Jr. claimed he was doing just that. “I basically have zero contact with [my father] at this point,” Trump Jr. told a group of GOP donors at a Trump campaign event back in March, according to NBC News. Still, he admitted, the transition back to the business world had been tough.
“I thought I was out of politics after Election Day and [would] get back to my regular life and my family, but I couldn’t,” he said. “Deals are still exciting, but when you’re the sort of guy out there every day, 24-7, fighting in this thing—it’s like a great fight.”
The political mire was apparently too hard to resist. On Twitter, Trump Jr. has made it his mission over the past few months to dispute any negative news affecting the White House, arguably acting as an unofficial mouthpiece and giving interviews when necessary. After former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was criticized for accusing his colleagues of leaking confidential information to the media, Trump Jr. blasted the press, claiming to have insider knowledge of the situation, despite having no official White House title.
“Shocked the media is going after Scaramucci for working to cut off their “sources” & leaks,” he tweeted. “All I know is that he isn’t/wasn’t the leak!!!”
Apparently, it wasn’t the only thing he knew. Although neither the Trump Organization nor the White House have explained why Trump Jr. was on the receiving end of this most recent NSC memo, it’s safe to assume it’s not the only listserv or government communication of which he’s a part. This, despite the fact that the previously mentioned ethics agreement between the two sides is presumably still in place.
“It’s unclear how—and especially why—Don Jr. received the memo,” Salon’s Angelo Young wrote on Friday. “He has no official role at the White House and is supposed to be focused, along with his brother Eric, on running their father’s business empire—not trying to please his father with conspiratorial documents.”
It’s possible that Trump Jr. ended up on the email list simply by accident. It’s also possible that the president’s son never received the memo in the first place. But if he did, it proves there’s very likely an existing, backroom channel through which Trump Jr. is getting his conspiracy-laden updates—and that the Trump administration is on the other end of that line.