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WASHINGTON (AP) — House and Senate lawmakers from both parties are set to meet with top intelligence officials Thursday as President Donald Trump raises new suspicions about the federal investigation into his 2016 campaign.

Trump is calling his newest attempt at discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation “spygate.” In recent days, he has been zeroing in on — and at times embellishing — reports that a longtime U.S. government informant approached members of his campaign during the 2016 presidential election in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the election.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the FBI had been caught in a “major SPY scandal.”

Trump’s latest broadsides set the stage for the unusual decision by the White House to arrange a briefing Thursday about classified documents for just two Republican House members, both Trump allies, as Trump and his supporters in Congress pressed for information on the outside informant.

After Democratic complaints and negotiations that went into the late evening Wednesday, the Justice Department said it would host a second classified briefing the same day and invite the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” — a group that includes the top Republicans and Democrats in each chamber and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees.

There were two other late additions to the list — White House chief of staff John Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had originally said that no one from the White House would attend the briefing, at which the investigation into Trump’s campaign will be discussed.

Rosenstein will replace another Justice Department official who was originally scheduled to attend. Rosenstein was left off the list as Trump on Tuesday declined to say whether he had confidence in him. Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, and is frequently criticized by Trump.

The two House lawmakers — Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy — were invited to attend both briefings, as were Kelly, Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.

All were invited to the second briefing, as well, plus Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr was also invited, along with the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, Sen. Mark Warner, and the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, Rep. Adam Schiff.

Nunes, an ardent Trump supporter, had originally requested the information on an FBI source in the Russia investigation. And Trump took up the cause as the White House tried to combat the threat posed by Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice.

Trump escalated his efforts to discredit the investigation Wednesday, tweeting: “Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”

It remained unclear what, if any, spying was done. The White House gave no evidence to support Trump’s claim that the Obama administration was trying to spy on his 2016 campaign for political reasons. It’s long been known that the FBI was looking into Russian meddling during the campaign and that part of that inquiry touched on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian figures. Mueller later took over the investigation when he was appointed in May 2017.

Trump has told confidants in recent days that the revelation of an informant was potential evidence that the upper echelon of federal law enforcement had conspired against him, according to three people familiar with his recent conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly. Trump told one ally this week that he wanted “to brand” the informant a “spy,” believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public.

As Republicans worked to show a Justice Department conspiracy against Trump, Democrats and former law enforcement officials defended the agency. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, tweeted Wednesday that the agency’s use of secret informants was “tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country.”

“Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country,” Comey tweeted. “How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?”

Trump shot back during a brief news conference with reporters: “What I’m doing is a service to this country and I did a great service to this country by firing James Comey.”

The back and forth between Congress and the Justice Department over the Nunes request — one of many over the course of the Russia investigation — has simmered for weeks.

The department originally rejected Nunes’ appeal, writing in a letter in late April that his request for information “regarding a specific individual” could have severe consequences, including potential loss of human life. Negotiations over the information stalled, but restarted when Trump demanded in a tweet Sunday that the Justice Department investigate “whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

The Justice Department agreed by expanding an open, internal investigation to determine whether there was any politically motivated surveillance. And the White House said Kelly would organize the meeting with House lawmakers to discuss the documents.

The New York Times was the first to report that the FBI had an informant who met several times with Trump campaign officials who had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. No evidence has emerged to show that Obama-era authorities placed an informant inside the Trump campaign.


Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Just weeks ago, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) told TPM that he thought two Republicans would make it into the runoff election for his seat, locking out Democrats and costing them one of their top pickup opportunities. But this week, he said he thinks that isn’t going to happen.

“The Democratic turnout is exceeding Republican in the absentee [mail vote],” Issa, who is retiring at the end of this term, told TPM on Tuesday. “The Democrats have a machine turning out Democratic votes and that’s probably going to make a difference on June 5 … what they’re doing is designed to make what would otherwise be a failure into a success.”

According to new early vote numbers, Issa is right that that’s less likely to happen in his district. But the numbers suggest Democrats may be in a precarious spot in a few other California districts they’ve been worried about.

Those numbers are compiled by data guru Paul Mitchell, whose team reaches out to each county to get daily vote updates. He said the early data suggested that the electorate is looking a lot more like a normal midterm electorate in the state than one where Democrats are flocking to the polls — a sign that it might be harder to flip these traditionally Republican but Democratic-trending seats in the fall than some Democrats have hoped.

It’s all bad signs,” he said. “I don’t think these early vote numbers suggest a big blue wave in the primary.”

California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-winners to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races.

In Issa’s seat, where four serious Democratic candidates are vying against three Republicans, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in early mail ballots returned — a big factor in the race as California strategists say at least two thirds of the election’s votes will be cast by mail. Registered Democrats make up 32 percent of the district’s vote-by-mail population but have returned 36 percent of its votes, while Republicans’ returned ballots have matched their 37 percent share of the electorate.

That’s not the case in another key race where Democrats are concerned they might get shut out — a Democratic-leaning district held by retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) where three Democrats including two front-runners are squaring off against a trio of Republicans. And while Democratic strategists who have seen internal polling say this district isn’t at the top of their worry list, the numbers suggest there’s reason for concern here as well, as Republicans are voting at faster numbers than Democrats.

In Royce’s district, registered Democrats make up 34 percent of the vote-by-mail population, the same percentage that have returned ballots. But Republicans, who make up 37 percent of the vote-by-mail population, have returned 46 percent of the ballots received so far.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s GOP-leaning seat more closely mirrors the registered vote population. Democrats make up 30 percent of vote-by-mail registrants and 35 percent of those ballots returned, while Republicans make up for 42 percent of the district’s mail voters and 46 percent of those who have returned ballots.

It’s still relatively early in the election — ballots were sent out in early May, voters have until the June 5 primary to return them. Since there are more competitive Democratic than Republican primaries (including all-party races for governor and senator) Democrats may be more likely to sit on ballots for longer. Different campaigns have different vote-gathering strategies as well, so one shouldn’t over-read these results. But they can be instructive.

Mitchell is a Democrat but his clients include both the California Democratic and Republican parties. He thinks the likelihood of Democrats getting locked out in any particular district remains low — but says there’s a good chance they’ll blow one race, a costly mistake in a year where every seat counts as Democrats try to win back the House majority.

I believe it’s an unlikely event for this to happen in any one district but if you take five unlikely events you end up with one fairly likely event,” he told TPM.

Democrats are doing everything they can to avoid that situation, pouring millions of dollars into a number of districts to tear down some Republicans and boost some Democrats. Republicans have been surprisingly quiet in those races, considering how with some effort now they could guarantee victory in a few key House battles — as well as save themselves a lot of money down the line (though there have been some last-minute efforts by GOP outside groups).

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While Democrats were not invited by the White House to attend a classified briefing between two Republican committee chairs and top intelligence and law enforcement officials on Thursday, they will be invited to to attend a similar planned meeting in the future, ABC News first reported Wednesday.

“Tomorrow’s meeting will proceed as previously scheduled. A separate meeting of the bipartisan Gang of 8 [the majority and minority leaders in both the House and Senate, and the leaders from both parties of each chamber’s intelligence committee] with DOJ, law enforcement and intelligence officials is being planned following the Memorial Day recess,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told the outlet.

It was not clear from the report, nor from Shah’s statement, whether the bipartisan meeting will include information on an FBI informant who reportedly made contact with several Trump campaign staffers prior to the 2016 election, a recent fixation of Trump’s

The White House has faced intense criticism for only inviting Republicans — House intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) — to Thursday’s meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Ed O’Callaghan, the principal associate deputy attorney general.

The White House announced Monday that chief of staff John Kelly would arrange Thursday’s meeting after Trump finished a meeting with Wray, Coats, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Sunday, Trump “demand[ed]” on Twitter that the Department of Justice investigate the Russia investigation itself, and specifically the reported FBI informant.

The Department of Justice subsequently confirmed that it had asked its inspector general “to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

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Jared Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell confirmed Wednesday that his client was interviewed a second time by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators in April.

“They asked him questions. He answered every single one,” Lowell told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview. “It was thorough.”

“I don’t know that anybody could be cooperating more” with Mueller’s probe, he said separately.

Between the two meetings with Mueller’s team, Lowell said, Kushner had spent “a total of over nine hours with them.” Lowell separately told CNN Kushner answered investigators’ questions for seven hours in April. Kushner first met with investigators in November. 

Asked about the content of Mueller’s team’s questions, Lowell spoke generally.

“They’re looking to see whether there was collusion with Russia in the in the campaign, and whether or not anybody in the campaign was involved, and if that violated any law,” Lowell said. “And they’re looking at this broad topic that they call, or the media calls, obstruction of justice.”

Mueller’s team, he said, “would have asked questions of all of their witnesses, including Jared Kushner, about those topics.”

“But he has a unique role,” Lowell added. “He was there in the campaign, he was there in the transition and he worked in the White House when events occurred after the inauguration that is of interest to the counsel.”

Asked whether Kushner was a witness, subject or target of Mueller’s probe, Lowell argued that the labels weren’t useful.

“I have done this for a bunch,” he said, “and I’ll tell you that today’s witness is tomorrow’s indicted person.”

But, he added, “in my experience, the kinds of questions they asked, the kinds of statements he made, the kinds of information he has, reflects that they understand that he’s a witness to the events.”

“There’s nothing he’s done, and nothing that I’ve seen, that would indicate that anybody would have an interest in him other than as being a witness to events,” Lowell said. “And nobody has indicated they have any intention of saying to him, you’ve done something wrong that would merit any charges.”

Asked about Kushner’s security clearance, which was restored Wednesday, Lowell declined to say what level of clearance Kushner had been granted.

“He has been restored in a permanent clearance to get all the material that he needs, and all the material that he got in the past in order to do the job the President has asked him to do,” he said.

Watch part of the interview below:

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This week EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed to lawmakers that supporters had established a legal defense fund to help him deal with the many investigations he’s facing. Little is known about the fund except, according to the Washington Post, that it was established by Pruitt friend and Republican super-lawyer Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell, the Associated Press noted, “is known for arguing for narrow interpretations of financial disclosure requirements in politics.”

On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, reporters were barred from attending a summit hosted by the EPA on a category of toxic chemicals known as PFASs. Staffers for the member of Congress representing Flint, Michigan, were also barred. A draft study from the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year found that PFASs — present in everything from teflon to fire-fighting foams — are dangerous at lower levels than previously thought. According to January emails released recently as the result of a FOIA request, Trump administration staffers fretted to the EPA that the study’s findings would be a “public relations nightmare.” HHS still hasn’t published the study.

The EPA argued that the summit wasn’t legally required to be open to the public. Reporters disagreed.

Elsewhere in the administration, the State Department’s inspector general is probing the reassignment of high-level officials who worked on various Obama administration priorities. Democratic members of Congress allege that these officials were improperly reassigned to “tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise,” such as processing FOIA requests. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) that he would check on Engel and Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-MD) months-old request for related documents.

The currently leaderless Department of Veterans’ Affairs, meanwhile, has stripped employees of their right to have a union representative present during appearances before the Disciplinary or Professional Standards boards.

Though the President attacks their work every day, FBI employees couldn’t be happier on the job. At least, as far as we know: The editors of Lawfare have sued over a pending FOIA request to see the results of the bureau’s annual morale survey.

Over at the Treasury Department, Secretary Steve Mnuchin swears he has nothing to do with an inspector general’s probe into how sensitive financial reports about Trump fixer Michael Cohen were leaked. Given his role as finance chair of Trump’s campaign, some Democratic lawmakers have urged him to recuse himself altogether from matters related to the Russia probe.

The new director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection acknowledges his massive conflicts: Andrew Smith has said he’ll recuse himself from dozens of cases involving his former legal clients, including pay day lenders, Facebook, Equifax and Uber.

When it comes to executive branch wrongdoing, of course, there’s only one top dog: The President. Trump reportedly put pressure on the Postmaster General to double shipping rates for Amazon, whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also happens to own the Washington Post.

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NEW YORK (AP) — The special prosecutor investigating former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has started conducting interviews with the women whose allegations of violent slapping, choking and other abuse led to his resignation this month, The Associated Press has learned.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas met Wednesday with Michelle Manning Barish, one of the four women whose tales of abuse were the subject of a New Yorker expose on Schneiderman, according to two people familiar with the investigation.

Both people spoke about the interview on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Singas’ office declined comment, saying it would not do so until the investigation is finished. A lawyer for Manning Barish was traveling and could not be immediately reached.

Manning Barish, a Democratic activist and writer, was romantically involved with Schneiderman from mid-2013 through the end of 2014.

She told The New Yorker that Schneiderman, a Democrat, became controlling and abusive soon after they started dating. She said he slapped her hard across the face and choked her.

“I felt like I was being beaten by a man,” she told the magazine.

Tanya Selvaratnam, who dated Schneiderman in 2016 and 2017, and two women whose names were withheld described similar abuse. Some of the women said Schneiderman was a heavy drinker.

Schneiderman, 63, announced his resignation hours after The New Yorker article appeared online. He implied in a statement that his conduct was either welcomed or was not as the women described.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Singas as a special prosecutor the next day, taking the case away from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest stemming from a probe into movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Cuomo in March ordered Schneiderman’s office to investigate how Vance’s office handled a 2015 case against Weinstein that resulted in no criminal charges.

Singas, in office since 2015, has assembled a team of top prosecutors from her suburban Long Island office for the Schneiderman investigation and is conducting many of the interviews herself.

The former sex crimes prosecutor, the founder of Nassau’s special victims bureau, is working with authorities in neighboring Suffolk County and New York City to investigate incidents alleged to have occurred in the Hamptons and Manhattan.

Schneiderman’s lawyer, Isabelle Kirshner, has said she is confident Singas “will conduct a fair, thorough and unbiased investigation” that won’t result in any criminal charges.

The allegations tarnished Schneiderman’s reputation as a defender of women at the forefront of the #MeToo movement. Schneiderman launched an investigation last year into movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s studio, and in February filed a lawsuit aimed at securing better compensation for his sexual misconduct accusers.

After the story was published, Manning Barish wrote on Twitter: “After the most difficult month of my life-I spoke up. For my daughter and for all women. I could not remain silent and encourage other women to be brave for me. I could not.”

Early Wednesday morning, she tweeted praise for Cuomo, who is being challenged by “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon in the September primary.

Manning Barish said she was “deeply grateful” for Cuomo’s “swift leadership” in the Scheniderman case.

“Leadership is defined in moments like these, where a statement is made before waiting for public opinion to decide it for you,” she wrote. “He has my vote.”

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Uber is pulling its self-driving cars out of Arizona, a reversal triggered by the recent death of woman who was run over by one of the ride-hailing service’s robotic vehicles while crossing a darkened street in a Phoenix suburb.

The decision announced Wednesday means Uber won’t be bringing back its self-driving cars to the streets to Arizona, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles.

Uber had suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto while regulators investigated the cause of a March 18 crash that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. It marked the first death involving a fully autonomous vehicle, raising questions about the safety of computer-controlled cars being built by Uber and dozens of other companies, including Google spin-off Waymo.

Uber still plans to build and test self-driving cars, which the San Francisco company considers to be critical to maintaining its early lead in the ride-hailing market. This as Waymo and other rivals prepare to enter the field with robotic vehicles that may be able to offer cheaper fares.

In a Wednesday statement, Uber said its self-driving cars will return to Pittsburgh this summer. The company said it is focusing its efforts to build self-driving cars in that city as well as in San Francisco, although it didn’t make a commitment to bring its robotic vehicles back to the streets of California, where it no longer has a permit to operate them after allowing its license in that state to expire earlier this year.

About 550 Uber employees will remain in Arizona working on its other operations in the state, including its traditional ride-hailing service with cars driven by humans responding to requests made through a mobile app.

Uber brought a fleet of self-driving cars to Arizona at the end of 2016, just days after the vehicles were banned from California for not having the proper permits at that time.

California’s action prompted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to send out a derisive tweet in an effort to persuade Uber to bring its self-driving cars to his state. “This is what OVER-regulation looks like!” Ducey wrote.

Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing its tests of self-driving cars after Herzberg was run over, a ban that a spokesman said Wednesday remains in effect.

“The governor’s focus has always been on what’s best for Arizonans and for public safety, not for any one company,” said Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

The fatal collision involving Uber’s self-driving car added to the headaches vexing CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as he tries to repair the damage done by a regime led by his predecessor, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick. The company is trying to recover from a wave of revelations and allegations about rampant sexual harassment in Uber’s workforce, a cover-up of a massive data breach , dirty tricks and stolen trade secrets .

Khosrowshahi has promised he won’t allow Uber’s self-driving cars back on public roads again until he is convinced the vehicles are safe. That won’t happen until Uber completes “a top-to-bottom safety review,” according to a statement the company issued Wednesday. As part of that process, Uber hired Christopher Hart, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, to review its self-driving car program.

Meanwhile, Waymo is preparing to launch a ride-hailing service in Arizona that will pick up passengers in robotic cars that won’t have humans to take control if the vehicle malfunctions. The service is supposed to begin before the end of this year.

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A Republican super PAC is launching a last-minute effort to boost a handful of House GOP candidates in southern California. The goal is to block Democrats from getting a candidate into the general election in some key House races.

The American Future Fund, an Iowa-based GOP group, has dropped almost $700,000 to boost four GOP candidates in three districts, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.

Their goals are to elevate some flagging Republicans and try to help them make the November ballot in districts that are key to Democrats’ hopes of winning the House this fall.

California’s “jungle” primary system allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party. That’s led to concerns among Democrats that their candidates could split the Democratic vote, allowing Republicans to finish in the top two spots in some congressional races and immediately costing them chances at a handful of winnable seats in the state.

National Democrats have been spending heavily to try to avoid that scenario.

Republicans had been surprisingly quiet in their response, considering how with some effort now they could guarantee victory in a few key House battles — as well as save themselves a lot of money in November in the expensive districts. But this buy suggests things may be starting to shift.

The GOP super-PAC’s buy includes almost $500,000 on advertising, direct mail and door-to-door voter outreach to boost Rocky Chavez and Diane Harkey, a pair of Republican candidates running for the seat currently held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is retiring. That race is one in which both parties worry they might get shut out and fail to get a candidate through to the November election, though Democrats are more alarmed at the prospect.

The group is also spending $100,000 to boost Scott Baugh, a Republican running against controversial Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). That district is the one where Democratic concerns about being shut out, given their own crowded field, are most acute.

The GOP group is also chipping in about $100,000 to boost Young Kim, the GOP front-runner in the crowded race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA).

The efforts for Kim and Harkey began last week, but this is the first evidence that the group’s push is to block Democrats out in some of these districts, rather than help out particular GOP candidates. The group didn’t respond to requests for an explanation of their strategy.

Republicans had expressed growing frustration that their party wasn’t doing more to meddle in these primaries to ensure the best results. Democrats already have spent millions on the races.

Issa told TPM on Tuesday, before these ads had become public, that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were doing a better job organizing in the state, even in traditionally conservative enclaves like his district.

“Pelosi naturally gets us better. That’s not to say anything against Steve,” Issa said, referring to National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH). “It’s just that the observation in my district is the Democrats are playing a game that could well get one of their candidates in that otherwise wouldn’t if both sides were playing.”

Other Republicans have also griped about the lack of national intervention to help them.

“You wish the party would recognize this opportunity and lift us up,” GOP strategist John Thomas, who’s working with candidate Shawn Nelson in Royce’s district, told TPM. “They just don’t understand the top-two dynamic.”

Democrats have been spending heavily against Nelson and Bob Huff to avoid them getting into the runoff with Kim, the GOP front-runner, and Republicans still have done little in response to help them.

But the American Future Fund’s late intervention could help move the ball back in Republicans’ direction in these key seats.

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Jared Kushner had his security clearance restored Wednesday after it was revoked nearly three months ago, according to a CNN report.

Kushner, a White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law, reportedly lost his interim clearance during a security overhaul in February prompted by the firing of former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who stayed in his post despite multiple spousal abuse allegations.

Factors including Kushner’s involvement in events under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his lack of candor in reporting his foreign contacts on the initial clearance form also reportedly contributed to the removal.

Per CNN, the White House has blamed the months-long delay in restoring Kushner’s status to administrative backlog and the complexity of his application.   

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