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Questions grow over Kushner’s security clearances

The Hill logo The Hill 5 days ago Katie Bo Williams and Jordan Fabian
Questions grow over Kushner’s security clearances © Provided by The Hill Questions grow over Kushner’s security clearances

Jared Kushner is moving closer to the eye of the storm surrounding President Trump and Russia.

Calls for Kushner to loser his security clearance have mounted, as congressional investigators probe whether the Trump campaign's digital operation - run by the president's son-in-law - coordinated efforts with Russian bots spreading fake news about Hillary Clinton.

Kushner is also a figure in Donald Trump Jr.'s controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Clinton. He and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both attended the meeting, as did a Russian-American lobbyist with past ties to Russian intelligence. Kushner reportedly left the meeting after 10 minutes.

Most of the attacks on Kushner have been partisan, but even some Republicans fed up with the drama surrounding Trump's family are now calling for Kushner's exit.

"I'm going out on a limb here, but I would say that I think it would be in the President's best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House," Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), a former chairman of the powerful conservative Republican Study Committee, told local radio Thursday morning. "Not only Donald Trump, but Ivanka and Jared Kushner."

Kushner, who works on a broad foreign policy portfolio, has now had to amend his security clearance form twice to account for previously-unreported meetings with Russian individuals.

"It's very hard for me to imagine anyone else being allowed to continue their clearance if they participated in a meeting like the one that just became public," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill in an interview.

Schiff is also probing whether the Trump campaign's analytics operation made any attempt to help Russian social media trolls push negative stories about Clinton to certain valuable segments of voters. He declined to name Kushner specifically, but the first son-in-law headed that arm of the campaign. The data and digital director for the campaign, Brad Parscale, said Friday that he will speak to the panel as part of its investigation.

Democrats have trained their fire on Kushner's security clearance.

The discovery of the emails led Kushner to amend his security clearance form, which in turn sparked federal investigators to interview him for a second time.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday called for Kushner's security privileges to be revoked "immediately." Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the former head of the Democratic National Committee, put forth two appropriations amendments crafted to revoke his clearance; both failed along party lines.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both in the past have raised questions with Kushner's security clearance. They have yet to receive an answer to a letter about the status of Kushner's clearance and the circumstances surrounding his eligibility, sent to Marcia Lee Kelly, director of the office that handles White House security clearances, and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that his committee will ask Kushner and Trump Jr. for additional documents, while Grassley has said that he wants to speak with Kushner.

Other Democrats took it a step further, calling for Kushner to resign.

"You don't think the Republicans would be calling for the resignation of an Obama official who allowed the president and vice president to openly lie about a major national security issue?" Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters. "He watched his father-in-law on TV say no one in [the Trump] campaign talked to the Russian government."

The Kushner-led campaign digital operation has provided another thread for federal and congressional investigators.

In the lead-up to Election Day, a loose network of hackers, bloggers and other online figures helped spread false and negative reports about Clinton on Twitter and Facebook to million of voters living in key states, cities and precincts.

The network used armies of social media "bots," that run automated functions, to accelerate the spread of reports.

Investigators are looking into whether Russia identified its targets with the help of the Trump campaign's cyber operation, which had detailed information about voters, according to McClatchy.

Kushner has long been seen as central to unraveling any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In May, The Washington Post reported that Kushner was considered a focal point of the federal investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia, now in the hands of special counsel Bob Mueller.

He met last December with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a meeting that he did not initially disclose on his security clearance form. Kislyak reportedly relayed to Moscow that Kushner wanted to explore a secret back channel with Russia, according to The Post.

He also failed to disclose a separate December meeting with the head of a prominent sanctioned Russian bank.

Kushner's lawyers have characterized the omissions as an oversight. Intentionally omitting information on the form, known as a SF-86, is a felony.

"As we have previously stated, Mr. Kushner's SF-86 was prematurely submitted and, among other errors, did not list any contacts with foreign government officials," Kushner's attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said Saturday.

"The next day, Mr. Kushner submitted supplemental information stating that he had had 'numerous contacts with foreign officials' about which he would be happy to provide additional information. He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition.

"Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week accused Democrats demanding his clearance be revoked of "trying to play political games," but declined to say whether he still has a clearance.

"We don't discuss security clearances," she said.

Kushner does still have an interim clearance, according to Yahoo News.

Amid the intensifying scrutiny of the probe, Gorelick, a well-known Washington lawyer, is dropping out of the case and turning all Russia-related matters over to another high-powered attorney on Kushner's team: Abbe Lowell.

Lowell, a Democrat, is an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has represented former presidential candidate John Edwards and GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

A spokesman for Kushner did not respond to a request for comment.

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