Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was notified Wednesday that he has been granted a permanent security clearance to view top-secret material – an indication that he may no longer be under scrutiny by the special counsel, who had been investigating his foreign contacts and other activities.
Last month, Kushner sat for about six hours of questioning by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on a wide range of topics, including his meetings with foreign officials during Trump’s transition and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, according to Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney.
The interview – his second session with the special counsel – came nearly a year after The Washington Post reported that investigators were examining contacts Kushner had with high-level Russians during the presidential transition.
Kushner’s permanent clearance was granted by career White House and intelligence officials after the completion of his FBI background check, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. This person confirmed that Kushner was granted a top-secret clearance, a level he had previously held on an interim basis.
Current and former law enforcement officials said it would be very unusual for someone to get a full security clearance if there were an ongoing criminal investigation that had the potential to result in charges for that person.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer who specializes in security clearance issues for government employees, said the decision – absent any new facts coming out – “is a very positive sign for Kushner that he is substantively in the clear with the special counsel’s office.”
“Theoretically, there could be something so sensitive that the special counsel’s office is not sharing it with other agencies, but I think that’s less likely,” he added.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.
Government officials and investigators doing background security checks seek and share information with those doing criminal investigations so they are aware of any probes that could embroil or raise concerns about a federal employee seeking a clearance.
Clearance experts said government officials want to avoid giving a clearance to anyone who might be suspected of a crime or face charges.
The FBI’s background check into Kushner’s financial history and foreign contacts took more than a year, and his clearance level was downgraded in February, becoming a source of uncertainty for the West Wing aide and blocking him from approved access to some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets.
“With respect to the news about his clearances, as we stated before, his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process,” Lowell said in a statement. “Having completed all of these processes, he’s looking forward to continuing to do the work the president has asked him to do.”
The New York Times was first to report Kushner’s permanent clearance.
Lowell said Kushner has been voluntarily cooperating with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Kushner has had two interview sessions with the special counsel’s team. The first set of questions, which he answered in November, centered largely on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to the person familiar with the matter.
Then, in mid-April, Kushner sat for six to seven hours of questions that covered many topics, including his work on the Trump campaign, the transition and in the White House and about Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire Comey.
The special counsel’s questioning focused on Kushner’s work with Trump and did not include topics such as Kushner’s personal finances or those of his family business, Kushner Companies, according to the person familiar with the matter.
Lowell said that Kushner last year became “one of the first to voluntarily cooperate with any investigation into the 2016 campaign and related topics.”
“Since then, he has continued this complete cooperation, providing a large number of documents and sitting for hours of interviews with congressional committees and providing numerous documents and sitting for two interviews with the office of special counsel,” Lowell said. “In each occasion, he answered all questions asked and did whatever he could to expedite the conclusion of all the investigations.”
In February, Kushner’s interim security clearance was downgraded from “top secret” to the far less sensitive “secret” level amid reports that foreign governments had been overheard discussing how easily they felt they could manipulate him, in part because of his company’s financial debts.
His financial situation has since improved markedly. Kushner’s family business is finalizing a deal to finance its most troubled Manhattan property, 666 Fifth Ave., which faces a deadline early next year for repayment of a $1.2 billion debt. Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian real estate firm, said this month that it was close to an agreement to invest in the property.
An ongoing criminal investigation into a person would delay a decision on that person’s security clearance, said Zaid, the national security lawyer, adding that there can also be counterintelligence concerns so sensitive that the investigators would not share them with the agency handling the security clearance review.
Knowledge of a criminal probe “would generally delay adjudication, and it has been my view that was one of the reasons Kushner’s clearance was being delayed, along with a whole host of things given how complicated his case is,” Zaid said.
Even with an interim clearance, the president’s son-in-law had been allowed for months to see materials, including the president’s daily brief, that are among the most sensitive in government.
That dynamic long vexed the administration – so much so that some officials felt uncertain on how to deal with other White House employees in similar straits. At one point, the White House had dozens of workers awaiting permanent clearances before Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered an overhaul of the process.
When he joined the administration, Kushner had to file three updates to his national security questionnaire, a form that guides the FBI background check and asks for information about a person’s employment history, finances, family, travel and other matters.
Initially, Kushner did not list his foreign contacts on the form, though he submitted an addendum indicating he was willing to detail them. He submitted another addendum in mid-May 2017 detailing more than 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries. Then, in June, Kushner filed a third addendum acknowledging a meeting he had in June 2016 at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Some experts said that the evolving disclosures might have been disqualifying for another person and that it could explain the delay in granting Kushner a clearance.
But experts also pointed to more innocuous explanations, including that Kushner’s extensive travel and overseas contacts, as well as his business interests, are more complex than many incoming government officials’ and might have taken more time for the FBI to explore.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett