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Top Justice Dept. official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

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A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

The Feb. 9 phone call from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to White House Counsel Donald McGahn came amid growing public scrutiny of a number of administration officials without final security clearances. Most prominent among them is Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, who has had access to some of the nation’s most sensitive material for the last year while waiting for his background investigation to be completed.

A week after the call from Rosenstein, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced that staffers whose clearances have not been finalized will no longer be able to view top-secret information — meaning that Kushner could stand to lose his status as early as Friday.

As president, Trump can grant Kushner a high-level security clearance, even if his background investigation continues to drag on. But Trump said Friday that he would leave that decision to Kelly.

In his phone conversation with McGahn, Rosenstein intended to give an update on the status of Kushner’s background investigation. He did not specify the source of the information that officials were examining.

Justice Department officials said Rosenstein did not provide any details to the White House about the matters that need to be investigated relating to Kushner.

“The Deputy Attorney General has not referenced to the White House any specific concerns relating to this individual’s security clearance process,” spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the status of Kushner’s clearance or on information relayed by Rosenstein to McGahn.

Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment.

In a statement to The Washington Post last week, Lowell said he had been assured by officials that there was nothing unusual about the delay in Kushner’s security clearance.

“My inquiries to those involved again have confirmed that there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration, that the current backlogs are being addressed, and no concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner’s application,” Lowell said in a statement on Feb. 16.

Kushner’s interim clearance allows him to view both top-secret and sensitive compartmented information — classified intelligence related to sensitive sources. With that designation, he has been able to attend classified briefings, get access to the president’s daily intelligence report and issue requests for information to the intelligence community.

Security clearance experts said it is rare to have such a high level of interim clearance for such a long period of time. Typically, senior officials do not get interim access to top-secret and sensitive compartmented material for more than three months, experts said.

The day before Rosenstein’s call to McGahn, The Post reported that Kushner was among dozens of White House personnel who were relying on interim clearances while their FBI background investigations were pending.

White House officials have complained that they have had trouble getting information from the Justice Department and FBI about the status of delayed clearances, including Kushner’s. People familiar with the Feb. 9 call said Rosenstein was returning a White House phone call seeking guidance on the status of his background investigation, among those of others.

Rosenstein intended to speak to Kelly, but the chief of staff was not immediately available, so he ended up talking to McGahn instead, according to three people familiar with the call.

In the call, Rosenstein did not say whether the information that had come to the attention of the Justice Department was learned by the FBI in its standard background clearance investigation of White House staff. Rosenstein also oversees the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has scrutinized Kushner’s contacts with foreign officials and business dealings as he examines Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

There are conflicting accounts about whether Rosenstein discussed with McGahn the significance of the information and its possible impact on Kushner’s clearance. Two people said the deputy attorney general told McGahn the Justice Department had obtained important new information, suggesting it could be an obstacle to his clearance process. One other said Rosenstein did not discuss the nature of the ongoing investigation.

Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel in the Obama administration, said administration officials should view Rosenstein’s alert as a strong reason to revoke Kushner’s interim top-secret access.

“It seems to me that he should have restricted access to highly classified material until the resolution of those issues,” Bauer said.

Kushner’s inability to obtain a final clearance has frustrated and vexed the White House for months. As someone who meets regularly with foreign officials and reads classified intelligence, he would typically have a fast-tracked background investigation, security clearance experts said.

During the last six months, McGahn privately discussed the slow pace of Kushner’s background investigation with other senior aides, including with Kelly in the fall, according to a top administration official. Kelly expressed frustration with Kushner’s access to classified material on an extended interim clearance, according to the official. But McGahn and Kelly decided to wait for the FBI to complete its background investigation and took no action at the time to change his access.

Their wait-and-see mode ended abruptly last week, when Kelly issue a new policy that would block staff with interim clearances from receiving top-secret information as of Friday.

The changes were prompted by intense scrutiny that has followed domestic-abuse allegations against Rob Porter, the president’s former staff secretary, who was also working under an interim top-secret clearance.

The move puts a “bull’s eye” on Kushner, a senior official told The Post last week.

Kelly has told associates that he is uncomfortable with Kushner’s uncertain security clearance status and his unique role as both a family member and staffer, according to people familiar with the conversations. He has said he would not be upset if the president’s son-in-law and his wife, Ivanka Trump, left their positions as full-time employees.

On Friday, Trump said he would defer the question of Kushner’s access to his chief of staff.

“I will let Gen. Kelly make that decision, and he’s going to do what’s right for the country,” the president said during a news conference. “And I have no doubt that he will make the right decision.”

In a statement about Kushner issued earlier this week, Kelly said he had “full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico.”

Inside the White House, officials have discussed concerns that the delay in Kushner’s clearance is due in part to repeated updates he made to a form detailing his contacts with foreign officials.

He filed three amendments last year to the questionnaire, after failing to fully disclose contacts reaching back several years. Kushner has said the omissions were inadvertent errors.

Investigators scrutinize those activities to determine whether a person could be subject to influence or blackmail by a foreign government and can be trusted to guard classified information.

Ordinarily, security clearance experts said, the failure to completely disclose all contacts would jeopardize an applicant’s chances of obtaining final clearance.

In addition, Kushner’s actions during the transition have been referenced in the guilty plea of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted he lied to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Prosecutors said Flynn was acting in consultation with a senior Trump transition official, whom people familiar with the matter have identified as Kushner.

 

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CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Released After Arrest Live On Air During Minneapolis Protest Broadcast; Governor Apologizes

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4TH UPDATE, 12 PM PT: CNN says that it accepts Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s apology after reporter Omar Jimenez and a network crew were arrested early Wednesday while covering the George Floyd protests. Watch the video of the arrest above.

A CNN spokesperson said, “We accept Governor Walz’s apology and appreciate the sincerity of his words about the arrest of our crew this morning.  As journalists, the First Amendment gives us not only the right but also the responsibility to shine light in darkness and hold those in power to account.  With that in mind, we will move forward and continue our work in Minneapolis and everywhere else stories need to be told.”

Jimenez and two members of the crew, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, were arrested as they were doing a CNN live shot. They were released, but CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker spoke with Walz to express his concern over what happened.

The Minnesota State Patrol issued a statement that said, “In the course of clearing the streets and restoring order at Lake Street and Snelling Avenue, four people were arrested by State Patrol troopers, including three members of a CNN crew. The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

But CNN responded with a statement that said “This is not accurate — our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists. We thank Minnesota @GovTimWalz for his swift action this morning to aid in the release of our crew.”

3RD UPDATE, 9:37 AM PT: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that he takes “fully responsibility” for the arrest of Omar Jimenez and a CNN crew as they covered protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd.

“I take full responsibility there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen calls were made immediately,” Walz said at a press conference. “This is a very public apology to that team.”

He added, “In a situation like this, even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust. The community that’s down there, that’s terrorized by this, if they see a reporter being arrested, their assumption is that something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is that is unacceptable. We will continue to strive to make sure that accessibility is maintained, that not only that, the protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority.”

He said that he spoke with CNN president Jeff Zucker soon after the arrests, and Zucker wanted to know what happened.

“I appreciate his understanding in a situation, that he was rightfully incredibly angry, and that falls squarely on me that apology has been issued, and I think going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Walz said.

Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said that CNN may have a claim in this situation, as other journalists have sued government agencies and officials in the past for arrests during protest situations. In an email, she said that the First Amendment prohibits government officials, including police officers from interfering with news gathering or retaliating against journalists for protected speech.

“These claims can be difficult to establish, and there have been cases recently … that suggest that the bar for proving that an arrest violated and individual’s First Amendment rights is high.

“That said, having watched the video here, it doesn’t appear that the police had probable cause for an arrest; the CNN crew responded professionally, identified themselves as journalists, and repeatedly asked where they should stand; they were arrested anyway.”

According to the Reporters Committee, there were nine arrests of journalists in the U.S. in 2019, five of which took place at protests. That was compared to 11 in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents broadcast journalists, issued this statement Friday afternoon: “As journalists it is our job to cover protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies — some peaceful, some not. We do this without interfering with protesters or law enforcement. The arrest of Omar Jimenez, who was clearly identified as a credentialed member of the news media, is unacceptable.”

One of Jimenez’s colleagues also covering the protests, Josh Campbell, said that he received the “opposite treatment” from police. He identified himself and his news outlet and was allowed to remain in a designated area, he told CNN’s John Berman.

“Let me just say something — it is a statement of fact. You Josh Campbell are white. Omar Jimenez is not. I do not know if that played into this,” Berman said.

“There was a lot different here than what Omar experienced,” Berman said.

2ND UPDATE, 4:44 AM: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew have now been released from policy custody after their arrest live on air this morning mid-broadcast from the Minneapolis protests. As per below, state Governor Tim Walz intervened directly in the incident after calling CNN president Jeff Zucker to apologize.

After being released, Jimenez immediately took to the air again to recount the story and update on his situation.

“Everyone was pretty cordial after that [my arrest] happened,” said Jimenez, who added that a police officer told him he was “just following orders”.

“They weren’t violent with me, we were having conversation about how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city. A lot of these people are on edge,” the reporter continued. “The one thing that gave me a little bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV. When you talk within the community about, let’s say what happened with George Floyd, there’s discussion that, what’s happening isn’t new, it’s being filmed. That speaks to the power of having something that happens on camera. You can have people speak up for you without you saying anything.

“You guys [CNN anchors] saw what was happening, I was living what was happening, and the country was seeing what was happening unfold in real time right before their eyes – you don’t have to doubt my story, it’s not filtered in any sort of way, that gave me a little bit of comfort,” said Jimenez.

Twitter has been flooded with condemnation for the incident and praise directed at Jimenez for his professionalism.

UPDATED, 4:28 AM: CNN is now reporting that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has spoken directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker to take full responsibility for the incident, and is working to have Jimenez and his crew released immediately. “It was totally unacceptable and inadvertent what happened… they clearly had the right to be there, we want the media to cover this [the protests], it is never acceptable for this to happen,” Walz told Zucker, according to CNN’s John Berman.

PREVIOUSLY 3:30 AM: CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew have been arrested during a live broadcast from the Minneapolis protests.

Footage quickly emerged online, and many of Jimenez’s colleagues took to Twitter in outcry.

The incident took place shortly after 6AM EST (3AM PST) during the live filming of CNN’s weekday morning show New Day.

In the footage, Jimenez, sporting a virus protective mask, is being quizzed by his anchors Alisyn Camerota and John Berman in front of a group of riot police as they move to arrest a nearby person. State patrol then approach the presenter and his crew, and Jimenez can be heard telling the officers that the four-strong unit can move “where they would like” to get out of their way in a cooperative and non-confrontational manner. The officers surround the crew as Jimenez continues to report live on air, before he is told that he is under arrest and placed in handcuffs, displaying them to the camera as he is walked away. After a moment, the crew are also placed into handcuffs.

“That is an American television reporter being led away by police officers. He clearly identified himself as a reporter and was respectfully explaining to the police that the CNN team was there and moving away as they would request, and then for some reason he was taken into police custody live on television,” said anchor John Berman off screen.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Berman adds on several occasions. The camera continued to roll after the arrests, sitting on the floor at the feet of the officers.

Fellow CNN Josh Campell, who is white, was also in the area but was not arrested. “I identified myself… they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area’… What happened to Omar (Jimenez) was clearly a lot different… I was treated much differently than he (Jimenez) was,” he told the network.

CNN has confirmed the incident and called for the immediate release of its employees. “A CNN reporter and his production team were arrested this morning in Minneapolis for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves – a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The authorities in Minnesota, including the Governor, must release the three CNN employees immediately,” a statement from the network read.

Fierce protests have been raging in Minneapolis since an unarmed black man, George Floyd, died in police custody on Monday. Overnight, protesters broke into a police precinct in the city and set it on fire as the violence escalated. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has activated the state National Guard in a bid to restore order. Four officers involved in the incident have been fired but have not yet faced charges, with prosecutors stating they are still gathering evidence.

President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Friday that the military would “assume control” in the city if the disturbances continue, adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. His remarks have provoked a huge blowback and were subsequently flagged by Twitter for violating its rules around “glorifying violence”.

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New video appears to show three police officers kneeling on George Floyd

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New video posted on social media appears to show three Minneapolis Police Department officers kneeling on George Floyd during his arrest.

Previous video from eyewitness Darnella Frazier showed Floyd, 46, being knelt on by one officer–Derek Chauvin.

The new video shows the other side of the Minneapolis police vehicle where the arrest occurred. The video appears to show Chauvin and two other officers kneeling on Floyd.

Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday afternoon, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Four officers were involved in the incident and all have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd was arrested after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, police have said. Outrage grew after the first video surfaced showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The 46-year-old, who was unarmed and handcuffed, died after the arrest.

Minneapolis police said in a statement earlier this week that officers had been responding to an alleged forgery on Monday evening and that during the arrest, Floyd “physically resisted” them.

However, surveillance footage from the nearby Dragon Wok restaurant does not appear to support the claim that Floyd resisted arrest during the initial encounter. However, there are several minutes where Floyd’s and the officers interactions cannot be seen from the camera’s vantage point.

This new video appears to have been taken before the Frazier video, but after that surveillance video.

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Veterans Affairs Gives 1,300 Vets Unproven COVID-19 Drug Touted By Trump

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The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has been giving 1,300 veterans hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus since late March — even though the drug has not been proven to be effective against the illness and may even trigger fatal heart problems.

In a study of 100,000 patients with COVID-19 published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, patients who received hydroxychloroquine had a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to those who were not given the drug. “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine” on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

An April study of veterans who were given the drug — relentlessly hawked by President Donald Trump — produced similar findings.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter Friday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that despite mounting concerns about the drug, the VA will continue to use hydroxychloroquine for veterans.

Revelations of the use of the controversial antimalarial drug have sparked concerns about the effects it may have on veterans, many of whom are older and have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to a fatal side effect of the drug: heart arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

“Veterans’ groups remain deeply concerned that the VA has made large purchases of this drug and appears to have administered it to veterans despite the well-known, and in some cases, fatal risks,” Schumer wrote Wilkie earlier this month.

After Wilkie’s letter on Friday, Schumer responded in a statement later that day, saying, “This drug may be useless or even harmful for COVID-19 patients, but the VA continues to administer it to hundreds of vets. Why are we just learning this?”

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” he continued. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

Trump has been aggressively pitching hydroxychloroquine since March, even though the drug had not yet undergone clinical trials examining its effectiveness against COVID-19.

“What do we have to lose?” he asked during a briefing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have both warned against using the drug to treat COVID-19.

Last Monday, the president attacked a study of veterans treated with the drug that showed no benefits against the coronavirus. He called the findings a “Trump enemy statement,” insisting they were politically motivated. He then claimed that he had been taking the drug for weeks, though he stopped on Friday.

The Trump administration ordered 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine before it underwent trials for COVID-19 treatment. The VA also bulk-ordered some 6.3 million doses, according to Wilkie’s letter.

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