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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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‘Black Panther’ makes Oscar history with well deserved best picture nod

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Black Panther broke through an Oscar category wall for superheroes. The Marvel blockbuster hit became the first comic book-based film to earn a best picture nomination from the Academy Awards on Tuesday. It was a major step for comic book movies, which had previously been shunned from film’s top honor.

The most notable snub was 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” prompting the academy to expand the best picture category from five to up to 10 nominees.

It took a decade, but “Black Panther” cracked the category after becoming a box-office hit domestically and a cultural phenomenon. The film earned $700 million domestically during its theatrical run.

Overall, “Black Panther” was rewarded a total of seven nominations including Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart’s production design, Ruth E. Carter’s costume design and Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s song “All the Stars.” The film was also nominated for best sound editing, sound mixing and original score.

Beachler became the first African-American nominee for production design.

“To break down a wall like that, to be your ancestors’ wildest dreams, to show other young women of color and boys and girls that you can do whatever you want no matter what struggles you have in your life — all of that. That’s what it means to me,” said Beachler, talking by phone from the Cincinnati set of Todd Haynes’ latest film.

Ludwig Goransson, who scored the film, gave a lot of credit to the film’s overall success to director Ryan Coogler, who was shut out of the directing category.

“He’s an exceptional leader,” said Goransson of Coogler, who he’s known since college. The Grammy-nominated producer said his rapport with the director put together “memorable music” for the film.

“We’re not doing anything different than what we did 10 years ago,” said Goransson, a longtime producer of Childish Gambino. “I just tried to make the best music as I could to serve Ryan’s vision. When working with him, I try to make the best possible music as I can.”

Carter said she feels proud to be a part of a film like “Black Panther.”

“With this film, I felt like there was a paradigm shift,” said Carter, who was previously nominated for her designs for Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad.” ”The nominations let me know that not only Marvel fans, people of Africa and African-Americans felt really happy about this film, and loved the costume designs.”

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Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly Sparks Criminal Investigation

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Prosecutors urged alleged R. Kelly victims to come forward in a press conference on Tuesday night following the airing of “Surviving R. Kelly,” in which several women accused the singer of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Cook County, Ill., state attorney Kim Foxx told reporters (via TMZ), “The recent allegations against entertainer R. Kelly in a recent Lifetime docuseries are deeply, deeply disturbing. It is our job at the Cook County state attorney’s office to investigate claims in the interest of justice and of public safety. I should stress that it takes courage to re-live and re-experience trauma by telling your story of sexual victimization, but we rely heavily on victim accounts and witness statements to prosecute cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence.”

“I’m here today to encourage victims of sexual assault or domestic violence related to these allegations to please get in touch with our office. The number to call is 773-674-6492. There are dedicated professionals in our witness unit who do this work on a daily basis and can work with you through this process,” Foxx continued. “Please come forward. There is nothing that can be done to investigate these allegations without the cooperation of both victims and witnesses. We cannot seek justice without you.”  Kelly has been accused of holding women and girls against their will in Chicago, where he has a recording studio, and Georgia, where he has property.

The docuseries also claimed that he preyed on and had sexual relations with underage girls who he kept in an alleged “sex cult.”

Kelly has maintained his innocence since allegations of abuse first emerged. The singer’s attorney, Steven Greenberg, told the Associated Press that the “Surviving R. Kelly” accusations were false, and simply “another round of stories [being used to] fill reality TV time.” He added that it was inappropriate for a D.A. to characterize allegations she’d seen on TV before actually filing charges or launching an investigation into the claims.

He was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008 after he was accused of making a sex tape with a 14-year-old girl. Meanwhile, Timothy Savage, who appeared in “Surviving R. Kelly” with his wife, alleged that Kelly threatened him for being involved with the docuseries.

Andrea Kelly, Lisa VanAllen and Kitti Jones star in the lifetime documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” 2019.

A Henry County, Ga., police report obtained by the Associated Press says Savage told an officer on Jan. 3 that Don Russell had texted him saying it would be best for him and his family if the documentary didn’t air. The report claims Russell called Savage while the officer was there and Savage put the phone on speaker. Russell accused Savage of lying to Lifetime and that if he continued to support the series, Russell and Kelly would be forced to release information that would show Savage was a liar.

According to TMZ, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office has officially opened up an investigation focusing on R. Kelly due to the several allegations made against the singer in lifetime’s documentary. In the final 2 parts of the documentary it was alleged that Kelly has been holding several women against their will.

TMZ also reports that investigators have been reaching out to several survivors featured in the TV project. In fact, the outlet confirmed investigators reached out to Asante McGee, one of the women who allegedly escaped R. Kelly’s home. Meanwhile, the attorney for Joycelyn Savage’s family was contacted by Chief Investigator Cynthia Nwokocha and the family has been fully cooperating in the investigation. We’re told investigators have been asking for contact information from others who have lived in Kelly’s former Atlanta home or have direct knowledge of what happened in the home. We’re told investigators were flooded with calls once the docuseries aired.

The D.A. is not commenting.

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Atlanta News & Entertainment

Film “Three’s Complicated” Set to Premier Sunday January 13, 2019 on TV One

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Prestige readers one of TV One‘s latest original film, THREE’S COMPLICATED is set to premiere Sunday, January 13, 2019 at 7 P.M. ET/6C. The project stars Shanola Hampton (Shameless), Tyler Lepley (The Haves and The Have Nots), Kyanna Simone Simpson (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) and Charles Malik Whitfield (The Temptations).

(Photos Courtesy of TV One)

THREE’S COMPLICATED chronicles the complicated love story of Deja (Hampton), a 42-year-old divorcee who has just been passed over for a promotion. After a night out at the bar, Deja ends up having a weekend fling with Sonny (Lepley) – a young, attractive man ten years her junior. She later discovers her fling is also dating her daughter Eleni (Simpson). Deja struggles to control her attraction to him and protect her daughter’s heart, who is head over heels for her new beau. Meanwhile, Deja’s ex-husband Craig (Whitfield) re-enters the picture seeking a reconciliation. Conflicted and uncertain, Deja finds herself in a complex love triangle that brings her to the brink of heartbreak.


“It was such a pleasure working with TV One and Swirl Films for my first time as an Executive Producer,” said Hampton. “This was such a special experience with an amazing cast and crew!”

THREE’S COMPLICATED is written and directed by Shari L. Carpenter. The film is produced for TV One by Swirl Films. For Swirl, Executive Producer is Eric Tomosunas and Producers are Darien Baldwin, Keith Neil, James Seppelfrick and Gingi Rochelle. Shanola Hampton also serves as Executive Producer. The film was casted by Leah Daniels Butler. For TV One, Tia A. Smith is Executive Producer in Charge of Production, Donyell McCullough is Senior Director of Talent & Casting, and Robyn Greene Arrington is Head of Original Programming and Production.

For more information about TV One’s upcoming programming, including original movies, visit the network’s companion website at www.tvone.tv. TV One viewers can also join the conversation by connecting via social media on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (@tvonetv) using the hashtag #THREESCOMPLICATED.

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