WASHINGTON — 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, three people familiar with the discussion told the Washington Post.
The Feb. 9 phone call from Deputy Attorney General Rod 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 Donald 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 Kelly announced that staffers whose clearances have not been finalized will no longer be able to view top-secret information — meaning that Kushner could have lost 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, the three people said.
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.
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.