Paper says Kushner sought secret Russia channel
Washington — The Washington Post reports that Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. has told his superiors that he and Jared Kushner discussed setting up a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin in December.
Kushner is Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a trusted adviser to the president.
The Post report cites anonymous U.S. officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.
The newspaper says Ambassador Sergei Kislyak told his superiors that Kushner proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for their discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor. The Post says Kislyak was reportedly “taken aback” by the suggestion.
The White House in March confirmed that Kushner and the ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in December.
Jared Kushner’s outsized role in his father-in-law’s campaign and now his presidency, plus connections along the way with Russian interests, make him a seemingly obvious person that investigators would want to know more about and possibly speak with as they probe links between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump.
A lawyer for Kushner, who has already volunteered to speak with Congress about his Russian meetings, said he is willing to cooperate with any additional investigations amid reports that the FBI is scrutinizing those encounters as part of a broader investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.
“The FBI tries to be thorough in their investigations,” said defense lawyer Edward MacMahon, who is not involved in the case. “If it’s been publicly reported that he met with Russians, and the investigation has to do with administration officials meeting with Russians, well, then, they’ll probably want to talk to everybody.”
Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy, and remains a powerful and influential confidante within the White House.
One likely area of interest for investigators would be Kushner’s own meetings with Russians, given that such encounters are at the root of the sprawling probe, now overseen by former FBI director Robert Mueller.
The White House in March confirmed that Kushner and Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser, met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, at Trump Tower in December for what one official called a brief courtesy meeting.
Flynn was pushed out of the White House after officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told Congress this month that that deception left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. Flynn remains under federal investigation in Virginia over his foreign business ties and was interviewed by the FBI
“If there is an investigation on anybody, would other folks around that person be of interest to the FBI as far as being interviewed? The answer to that is a big yes,” said former FBI agent Jim Treacy, who did two tours in Moscow as the FBI’s legal attache. If the FBI wants to speak with someone, it’s not necessarily an indication of involvement or complicity, Treacy said.
“Really, being spoken to, does not confer a target status on the individual,” he said.
Investigators are also interested in a meeting Kushner had with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, according to reports from The Washington Post and NBC News.
Another potential line of inquiry could concern Kushner’s failure to disclose some of his contacts with Russian government officials when he was filling out his application for a security clearance. The omissions were described as an “administrative error” by his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, who said additional information about his meetings were provided to the FBI the day after he submitted his incomplete clearance application.
When applying for a security clearance, applicants are asked to disclose details about their interactions with foreigners, including the names of all the foreign government officials the applicant has had contact with over the past seven years. In some cases, people can lose their security clearances and jobs for not properly disclosing foreign contacts. Some Democrats have called on Kushner to be stripped of his security clearance and have asked the FBI to review whether Kushner complied with the law.
Todd Hinnen, the former head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said it would be easy to read too much into investigators’ interest in Kushner.
“That doesn’t mean he is a subject or the FBI suspects him of any wrongdoing; it also doesn’t mean the FBI doesn’t suspect him of any wrongdoing,” Hinnen said in an email.
“Given his position and his contacts, interviewing him would be an important step in any thorough investigation,” Hinnen said.