WASHINGTON - Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, now has a permanent security clearance and recently sat for six to seven hours of questioning by special counsel Robert Mueller's team on a wide range of topics including Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, according to a person briefed on the matter.
The FBI's background check into Kushner's financial history and foreign contacts took more than a year, and his clearance level was downgraded in February, becoming a source of uncertainty for the West Wing aide and blocking him from approved access to some of the nation's most sensitive secrets.
But Kushner's permanent clearance was granted after career officials completed the FBI background check process, according to the person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Abbe Lowell, a personal attorney for Kushner, said in a statement: "With respect to the news about his clearances, as we stated before, his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process. Having completed all of these processes, he's looking forward to continuing to do the work the president has asked him to do."
The New York Times was first to report Kushner's permanent clearance.
Lowell said Kushner has been voluntarily cooperating with Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Kushner has had two interview sessions with the special counsel's team. The first set of questions in November centered largely around former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to the person familiar with the matter. Then, in mid-April, Kushner sat for six to seven hours of questions that covered many topics, including his work on the Trump campaign, the transition and in the White House and about Trump's decision in May 2017 to fire Comey, the person said.
The special counsel's questioning focused only on Kushner's work with Trump and did not include topics such as Kushner's personal finances or those of his family business, Kushner Companies, according to the person.
Lowell said that Kushner last year became "one of the first to voluntarily cooperate with any investigation into the 2016 campaign and related topics."
"Since then, he has continued this complete cooperation, providing a large number of documents and sitting for hours of interviews with congressional committees and providing numerous documents and sitting for two interviews with the office of special counsel," Lowell said. "In each occasion, he answered all questions asked and did whatever he could to expedite the conclusion of all the investigations."
In February, Kushner's interim security clearance was downgraded from top secret to the far less sensitive "secret" level amid reports that foreign governments had been overheard discussing how easily they felt they could manipulate him, in part because of his financial debts.
Kushner was granted a permanent clearance at a time when some of his potential vulnerabilities appear to have been eased.
Kushner's family business is finalizing a deal to finance its most troubled Manhattan property, 666 Fifth Ave., which faces a deadline early next year for repayment of a $1.2 billion debt. Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian real estate firm, said earlier this month that it had reached an agreement to invest in the property.
Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, said people who lose their interim security clearances are often able to get their clearances restored after a fuller investigation of the issues that caused concern for security officers. He said career staff at the White House and in an intelligence agency, typically the CIA, generally make the decisions about restoring a clearance.
Zaid said he presumed Kushner received a permanent top-secret clearance with access to secure compartmented information - the clearance access usually needed to review the highly classified intelligence presented each day in the President's Daily Brief.
"For that job, he would normally need top secret and SCI," Zaid said.
The person familiar with the matter confirmed that Kushner was granted a top-secret clearance.
Kushner's months-long inability to get a permanent security clearance had long vexed the administration, so much so that some officials felt unwilling to push the issue with others in similar straits. At one point, the White House had dozens of employees awaiting permanent clearances before Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered an overhaul of the process.
Some had expected Kushner might not receive a permanent clearance for the duration of Mueller's investigation. Even without a permanent clearance, the president's son-in-law had been allowed to see materials, including the President's Daily Brief, that are among the most sensitive in government.
Kushner had to file three updates to his national security questionnaire, a form that guides the FBI background check and asks for voluminous information about a person's employment history, finances, family, travel and other matters.
Initially, Kushner did not list his foreign contacts on the form, though he submitted an addendum indicating he was willing to detail them. He submitted another addendum in mid-May 2017 detailing more than 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries. Then, in June, Kushner filed a third addendum acknowledging a meeting he had in June 2016 at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Some experts said the evolving disclosures might have been disqualifying for another person, and it could also explain the delay in granting Kushner a clearance.
But experts also pointed to more innocuous explanations, including that Kushner's extensive travel and overseas contacts, as well as his business interests, are more complex than many incoming government officials and might have taken more time for the FBI to explore.
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday that there is a "substantial chance" a scheduled summit with Kim Jong Un could be canceled, as top aides prepared to travel to Singapore for a crucial planning meeting this weekend with North Korean officials.
Their trip comes less than two weeks after a North Korean delegation failed to show up for a similar planning meeting with U.S. officials in the island country, a failure that raised red flags at the White House, according to people familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the process.
Members of the White House negotiating team, which includes Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, intend to discuss with their North Korean counterparts the specific agenda and logistics for the June 12 summit in Singapore.
"I don't want to waste a lot of time, and I'm sure he doesn't want to waste a lot of time. So there's a very substantial chance that it won't work out," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office before a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. "That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12th."
The uncertainty over the planning coincides with recent hard-line rhetoric from Pyongyang that has led the White House to fear that Kim, after a burst of diplomatic outreach, is reverting to the regime's usual antagonistic and belligerent posture to gain leverage in the talks or to lay the groundwork to pull out.
Trump suggested that Kim could be having second thoughts because he is taking a major risk in entering negotiations with global powers. Over the past two months, Kim has made three trips outside his country - two to China and one over the border to South Korea - for the first time since taking power in 2011.
"There are certain conditions we want, and I think we'll get those conditions," Trump said, though he did not offer details of what his administration is asking of Pyongyang.
"North Korea has a chance to be a great country," he added. "It can't be a great country under the circumstances they're living in right now. I think they should seize the opportunity, and we'll soon find out whether or not they want to do that."
The North Koreans have sent signals to U.S. officials that Kim is skittish about logistical concerns, including ensuring that his plane would be able to access enough fuel for the 6,000-mile round trip flight and safeguarding his security while on the ground in Singapore, according to the people familiar with the deliberations.
Among other things, Kim purportedly is concerned that a trip so far from home could expose him to a military coup or other internal attempts to unseat him, the sources said.
During Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's second meeting with Kim, earlier this month, he outlined his expectations for a fast and comprehensive denuclearization plan for the peninsula, said individuals familiar with the meeting. Kim, meanwhile, focused on logistical issues and lingering North Korean concerns about the long-term integrity of a security guarantee from the United States.
North Korean officials are mindful of the fate of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who was brutally killed by his own people in a Western-backed overthrow in 2011 after giving up his nuclear program eight years earlier. Statements in recent weeks from national security adviser John Bolton that he prefers the "Libya model" - a quick denuclearization plan - have exacerbated their fears.
In his remarks Tuesday, Trump attempted to reassure Kim that he would remain in power under any deal to relinquish North Korea's nuclear weapons.
"I will guarantee his safety, yes," Trump said. "He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hard-working and prosperous."
Former U.S. government officials who have negotiated with North Korea under past administrations have warned that the Kim family regime is notoriously unreliable. They have suggested that the young dictator, thought to be in his early or mid-30s, is seeking to establish himself as a powerful global leader but has no intention of giving up his nuclear arsenal.
But Trump has rushed headlong into the summit, agreeing on the spot to a meeting after South Korean officials extended an offer from Kim during a visit to the White House in March. Kim's summit with Moon last month at the Korean demilitarized zone separating the two countries appeared to go smoothly, setting the stage for the Trump-Kim meeting.
Behind the scenes, however, Trump aides have become increasingly concerned that the North Koreans are not serious about discussing denuclearization and that the president could be set up for failure.
Jean Lee, a North Korea specialist at the Wilson Center who previously worked in Pyongyang as a reporter for the Associated Press, said the Trump administration is beginning to face up to the unrealistic expectations the president has set.
"I wish all of this had been sorted out before Trump agreed," Lee said. "For all this to be playing out publicly and at such a high level is unprecedented. The players themselves don't know how this is going to play out."
As he has before, Trump suggested that Pyongyang's hard-line shift over the past week was a result of Kim's second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom Trump called a "world-class poker player."
"Things changed after that meeting," Trump said. "So I can't say I'm happy about that."
There is recent precedent for the North Koreans to back out of plans to talk with the United States and South Korea.
In February, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he had agreed to a secret meeting with a North Korean delegation that included Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un. But the North Koreans pulled out of the meeting at the last moment.
Last week, North Korea scrapped planned talks with the South over objections to routine U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, and a high-ranking Kim aide blasted Bolton, who had suggested that the North Koreans would be expected to fully relinquish their nuclear weapons program before receiving reciprocal benefits from the United States.
In his meeting with Trump, Moon pushed to keep the summit on track, stating he has "every confidence" that Trump could reach a deal with Kim that would formally end the Korean War and bring "peace and prosperity" to North Korea.
South Korea's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters traveling with Moon from Seoul that the summit was still "99.9 percent" likely to happen.
Moon told the reporters that he emphasized to White House officials that Kim remains committed to the diplomatic process and that he expects inter-Korean talks to resume after joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises conclude next week.
At the State Department, Pompeo, who has visited Pyongyang twice, said U.S. officials are "working to make sure there's a common understanding" of what is to be discussed at the summit.
"It could be that it comes right down to the end and doesn't happen," Pompeo said. "We're preparing, continuing to lay the foundation for a successful meeting. I'm confident we'll get there."
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The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker, Anne Gearan and Greg Jaffe in Washington, and Anna Fifield in Tokyo, contributed to this report.