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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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American journalist killed by Russian forces in Ukraine, police say

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 An American journalist was killed and another journalist was wounded by Russian forces in the town of Irpin outside the capital of Kyiv on Sunday, Ukrainian police said. 

Brent Renaud, a 50-year-old filmmaker, was killed when Russian troops opened fire, according to Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force. Nebytov posted a graphic photo purportedly of Renaud’s body on Facebook, as well as pictures of his American passport and media credentials issued by The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Times said Renaud was “a talented filmmaker who had contributed to The New York Times over the years,” most recently in 2015, but he “was not on assignment for any desk at The Times in Ukraine.”

Nebytov wrote that Renaud “paid [with] his life for trying to highlight the aggressor’s ingenuity, cruelty and ruthlessness,” according to an automated translation of his Facebook post.

Renaud and his brother Craig Renaud have reported from a number of global hotspots over the past two decades, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt, according to a biography on their website. The pair won a Peabody Award in 2015 for an eight-part documentary for Vice News about a school in Chicago for students with severe emotional issues.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called reports of Renaud’s death “shocking and horrifying,” telling “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the U.S. and its allies would impose “appropriate consequences” against Russia for the killing.

“I will just say that this is part and parcel of what has been a brazen aggression on the part of the Russians where they have targeted civilians, they have targeted hospitals, they have targeted places of worship and they have targeted journalists,” Sullivan said.

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Singer Traci Braxton of ‘Braxton Family Values’ dies at 50

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Singer Traci Braxton, who was featured with her family in the reality television series “Braxton Family Values,” died at age 50 on Saturday.

Her sister, Toni, and family said that Braxton died “this morning as the snow was falling.” According to reports, Traci Braxton had been fighting esophageal cancer.

“Needless to say, she was a bright light, a wonderful daughter, an amazing sister, a loving mother, wife, grandmother and a respected performer,” the family said. “We will miss her dearly.”

“Braxton Family Values” aired for seven seasons starting in 2011 on WeTV. It focused on the lives of sisters Toni, Traci, Tamar, Trina and Towanda and their extended families.

Traci was an actress and singer who released albums in 2014 and 2018, with the singles “Last Call” and “Broken Things” her best-known songs.

She spent much of her time doing social work for children with disabilities, according to her website.

She was married to Kevin Surratt, with whom she appeared on the TV series “Marriage Boot Camp.”

Their son, Kevin Surratt Jr., said on Instagram Saturday that his mother fought to the end.

“I love my mother forever and this hurts so much but I’m at peace knowing she’s not in pain anymore,” he said.

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UNITED MASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

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BPRW) UNITEDMASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS TO GIVE INDEPENDENT ARTISTS THE OPPORTUNITY TO WIN $15K AND HAVE THEIR MUSIC INCLUDED IN THE FILM’S PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN

ORIGINAL SONG “BACK TO LIFE” FROM EMERGING HIP-HOP ARTIST QUANTRELLE WINS GRAND PRIZE; 5 RUNNERS UP TO RECEIVE $1,000

(Prestige Celebrity Magazine) NEW YORK, NY — In celebration of the highly anticipated film The Matrix Resurrections, UnitedMasters – the “record label in your pocket” for independent artists – has joined forces with Warner Bros. Pictures to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for artists to win $15,000 and have their original music included in the film’s promotional campaign. 

Today, UnitedMasters has revealed rising hip-hop artist and Charlotte, NC native Quantrelle as the winner of the contest. Quantrelle’s song, “Back to Life,” written specially for the open call, will receive the $15,000 cash prize and be featured in The Matrix Resurrections promotional campaign. Quantrelle’s track was selected as the lead song out of thousands of entries.

Quantrelle shared, “When I first started working on this song, the intention was to create a sound that embodied the energy of the movie. Once that feeling was solidified, I got inspired to write lyrics that really speak to the film and are words any Matrix fan would understand. I was really inspired by the scene of Neo dodging bullets, which I watched during the process, and that illustrious moment felt so in sync with what I was going for, that’s when I knew we had something special.”  

Five runners-up were also selected to receive $1,000 each to put towards their music careers. Each track was judged by UnitedMasters’ professional sync team and based on encompassing The Matrix themes, overall creativity, production quality, lyrical content, dynamics, mood, and emotion. The Matrix Resurrections is set to release in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on December 22nd.

UnitedMasters’ engagement with The Matrix Resurrections aligns with their mission of ensuring the next generation of creators take their futures into their own hands. UnitedMasters is dedicated to helping artists level the playing field by offering opportunities and exclusive resources often reserved for major label acts. The platform gives independent artists access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help directly connect with their fans, and opportunities to connect with brands that want access to premium music produced and owned by independent artists. UnitedMasters artists maintain ownership over their master recording rights while being introduced to millions of new fans worldwide through direct brand partnerships.

About UnitedMasters

Launched in 2017 by Translation founder and music industry veteran Steve Stoute, UnitedMasters is a music technology company that gives creators access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help them directly connect with fans, and opportunities for unique partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brands all while allowing them to maintain full ownership over their master recording rights.

About The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections reunites Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as cinematic icons Neo and Trinity. Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. And if Thomas…Neo…has learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of—or into—the Matrix. Of course, Neo already knows what he has to do. But what he doesn’t yet know is the Matrix is stronger, more secure and more dangerous than ever before. Déjà vu.

The film also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Angel Has Fallen,” TV’s “Gotham”).

Lana Wachowski directed from a screenplay by Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksander Hemon, based on characters created by The Wachowskis. The film was produced by James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski and Grant Hill. The executive producers were Garrett Grant, Terry Needham, Michael Salven, Karin Wachowski, Jesse Ehrman and Bruce Berman.

Wachowski’s creative team behind the scenes included directors of photography Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, production designers Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole, editor Joseph Jett Sally, costume designer Lindsay Pugh, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, In Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, In Association with Venus Castina Productions, The Matrix Resurrections. The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan on December 22, 2021; it will be available on HBO Max in 4K UHD, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (English only) on supported devices for 31 days from theatrical release.

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