The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, according to the government officials. The meetings, which took place during the transition, included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.
Until now, the White House had acknowledged only an early December meeting between Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Kushner, which occurred at Trump Tower and was also attended by Michael T. Flynn, who would briefly serve as the national security adviser.
Later that month, though, Mr. Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Mr. Kushner asked a deputy to attend in his stead, officials said. At Mr. Kislyak’s request, Mr. Kushner later met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, which the United States placed on its sanctions list after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine.
A White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, confirmed those meetings, saying in an interview that nothing of consequence was discussed and that they went nowhere. Mr. Gorkov, who previously served as deputy chairman of the board at Sberbank, Russia’s largest state-owned bank, could not be reached for comment.
Members of presidential transition teams routinely meet with foreign officials, and there is nothing inherently improper about sitting down with the Russian ambassador. Part of Mr. Kushner’s role during the campaign and the transition was to serve as a chief conduit to foreign governments and officials, and Ms. Hicks said he met with dozens of officials from a wide range of countries.
She added that Mr. Kushner was willing to talk to Senate investigators about the meetings with Mr. Kislyak and the banker, saying, “He isn’t trying to hide anything and wants to be transparent.”
Still, meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to Mr. Putin are now of heightened interest as several congressional committees and F.B.I. investigators try to determine the scope of the Russian intervention in the election and links between Russians and anyone around Mr. Trump.
The Senate panel’s decision to question Mr. Kushner would make him the closest person to the president to be called upon in any of the investigations, and the only one currently serving in the White House. The officials who initially described that Senate inquiry to The New York Times did so on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.
The F.B.I. declined to comment. There are no indications that Mr. Kushner is a focus of its investigation, and Ms. Hicks said he had not been questioned by the bureau.
Mr. Kislyak’s contacts with Trump administration officials have proved problematic: Mr. Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the conversations he had with the Russian envoy, claiming he had not discussed the sanctions against Russia when communications intercepts showed he had.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any Russian inquiries led by the Justice Department after he failed to disclose at his Senate confirmation hearing that he had met with Mr. Kislyak during the campaign.
The meetings Mr. Kushner arranged with Mr. Kislyak all took place in December, during the transition, Ms. Hicks said. Mr. Kushner attended the initial meeting with Mr. Kislyak to explore whether a channel could be set up between the Russian government and the incoming administration to improve relations between the United States and Russia, Ms. Hicks said. They also discussed how the United States and Russia could cooperate on issues in the Middle East, an area Mr. Kushner has been deputized to take the lead on, she said.
Mr. Kislyak asked for a second meeting to “deliver a message,” Ms. Hicks said. Mr. Kushner sent Avrahm Berkowitz, a White House aide and longtime associate. At that session, Mr. Kislyak told Mr. Berkowitz that he wanted Mr. Kushner to meet Mr. Gorkov, the Russian banker, Ms. Hicks said.
Mr. Gorkov is a graduate of the academy of Federal Security Service of Russia, a training ground for Russian intelligence and security forces. And as the head of Vnesheconombank, Mr. Gorkov presides over a bank whose supervisory board is controlled by members of Mr. Putin’s government, including Prime Minister Dimitri A. Medvedev. It has been used to bail out oligarchs favored by Mr. Putin, as well as to help fund pet projects like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Around the time the Russian ambassador asked that Mr. Kushner meet with Mr. Gorkov, American intelligence agencies were concluding that Russian spies, acting on the orders of Mr. Putin, had sought to sway the election by hacking political targets, like the Democratic National Committee, and passing stolen emails to WikiLeaks.
Mr. Kushner had not yet stepped aside as chief executive of Kushner Companies, his family’s real estate empire, which was trying to attract investment for the company’s crown jewel, an overleveraged Manhattan office tower on Fifth Avenue. The company was in the midst of negotiations to redevelop the building with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese company with ties to the Beijing government.
Senate investigators plan to ask Mr. Kushner if he discussed ways to secure additional financing for the building during his meeting with the Russian banker, a government official said. Ms. Hicks said that no such business was discussed at the half-hour session, during which Mr. Gorkov expressed a desire for an open dialogue. Nor did the issue of the American sanctions against Russian entities like Vnesheconombank arise, she added. “It really wasn’t much of a conversation,” she said.
The inquiry into Mr. Kushner’s dealings with the ambassador may further complicate Mr. Trump’s efforts to move past the Russia situation. Last week, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, confirmed in testimony to Congress that his agency had begun a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference and whether any associates of the president might have colluded with the Russian government.
Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been under scrutiny in the F.B.I. investigation because of his ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. In August, he was forced to step down as the chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign amid reports that his name emerged in a secret ledger in Ukraine listing off-the-books payments for consulting work he did for a Russian-backed government there. He has denied any wrongdoing and has said he never worked for the Russian government.
Other Trump associates who have been drawn into the F.B.I. investigation include Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime Republican operative who has acknowledged contacts with Guccifer 2.0, the mysterious online figure that is believed to be a front for Russian intelligence officials, and Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the campaign who has done extensive business in Russia. Both have denied doing anything unlawful.
The Senate investigation is proceeding on a separate track from the F.B.I. investigation while drawing on some of the same material, like routine electronic surveillance of the Russian ambassador and his embassy cohort. The committee chairman, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, has told the White House he plans to interview all Trump aides who had contact with Russian officials, according to White House officials. Depending on those interviews, some may be called upon to testify in closed-door sessions.
Mr. Burr and Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the committee’s vice chairman, said in a statement: “Mr. Kushner has volunteered to be interviewed as part of the committee’s investigation into the Russian activities surrounding the 2016 election.” They added that their inquiry would “follow the intelligence wherever it leads.”
The extent of Mr. Kushner’s interactions with Mr. Kislyak caught some senior members of Mr. Trump’s White House team off guard, in part because he did not mention them last month during a debate then consuming the White House: how to handle the disclosures about Mr. Flynn’s interactions with the Russian ambassador.
Ms. Hicks said that Mr. Trump had authorized Mr. Kushner to have meetings with foreign officials that he felt made sense, and to report back to him if those meetings produced anything of note. She said that because in Mr. Kushner’s view the meetings were inconsequential, it did not occur to him to mention them to senior staff members earlier.
“There was nothing to get out in front of on this,” she said.
|PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / AP PHOTO|
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner (right) listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a breakfast with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
Report: Jared Kushner had undisclosed meeting with head of Russian bank under sanctions
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Trump, will be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of the panel's investigation into Russia’s interference during the 2016 election.
"Mr. Kushner has volunteered to be interviewed as part of the committee's investigation into the Russian activities surrounding the 2016 election," senators Richard Burr (R, N.C.) and Mark Warner (D, Va.), the committee's chairman and vice chairman, told the New York Times in a statement.
According to the Times, the questions for Kushner will focus on two meetings he had with Russian agents in December, prior to his father-in-law's inauguration as president.
The first took place with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak alongside ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn at Trump Tower.
The second was a previously undisclosed meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank, which has been under sanctions since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed both meetings, telling the Times that nothing of consequence was discussed and that the meetings went nowhere. The White House had previously only acknowledged the first meeting between Kushner and Kislyak.
Between 2012 and 2014, Vnesheconombank was used as cover for Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov to gather intelligence and recruit New York City residents as sources for Moscow, according to the Department of Justice. Buryakov was prosecuted by then-United States Attorney Preet Bharara, who was recently fired by the Trump Administration.
A White House official told CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller that Kushner was the Trump campaign's "primary point of contact" with foreign governments and officials.
The disclosure of the Vnesheconombank meeting and Kushner's expected testimony comes on the day the president plans to unveil a new White House office, to be led by Kushner, that will be charged with overhauling the federal bureaucracy.
So far, seven associates of the president have been asked to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In addition to Kushner and Flynn, the list includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, campaign adviser Roger Stone, campaign manager Paul Manafort, policy advisor Carter Page, and J.D. Gordon, who was the Trump campaign’s director of national security.
So far, Kushner is the closest advisor to Trump to be caught up in ongoing invesigations over Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House Announces Jared Kushner Is Now Responsible For Everything
The president of the United States has a very difficult job, and in recent weeks we’ve all been given to wonder whether President Donald Trump really wants to do it. Last week, Trump’s first big legislative initiative ― the American Health Care Act ― foundered, partially due to the fact that the president abruptly stopped trying to facilitate negotiations with members of Congress. Over the latter half of Thursday, we went from House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) extolling Trump’s efforts, to Trump suddenly bailing on the effort and demanding a Friday resolution to the matter ― which all but guaranteed it wouldn’t be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.
But over the weekend, the president’s philosophy on running the country suddenly became more clear. Trump wants to get a lot of work done, he just wants his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to do it.
As the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker reported on Sunday, Kushner has been tapped to run an entirely new office with the “sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises ― such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction.”
Okay, but let’s cast our minds back to Jan. 9, when the same newspaper reported this:
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald Trump and one of his closest confidants, will join the White House as a senior adviser to the president, Trump announced Monday, while a lawyer assisting the family said that Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, will not immediately take on a formal role.
Kushner, who will not take a salary, is expected to have a broad portfolio that includes government operations, trade deals and Middle East policy, according to a member of Trump’s transition team. In a statement, the transition office said Kushner would work closely with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon to execute Trump’s agenda.
And on Feb. 10, The Washington Post reported:
Trump said he wanted to explore the possibilities for making what he has called “the ultimate deal,” a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians. He is deploying his son-in-law — and now senior adviser on the Middle East — Jared Kushner to the task.
So, if you’re keeping track, Jared Kushner, who comes to Washington with no government experience, no policy experience, no diplomatic experience, and business experience limited to his family’s real estate development firm, a brief stint as a newspaper publisher, and briefly bidding to acquire the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be working on trade, Middle East policy in general, an Israel-Palestine peace deal more specifically, reforming the Veterans Administration, and solving the opioid crisis.
Oh wait, that’s not all! Apparently, this new office will also be responsible for “modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing “transformative projects” under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband internet service to every American.”
We have certainly come a long way from “I alone can fix it.”
How is Jared Kushner going to do all of these things? Simply “modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency” is an enormous undertaking. In the United Kingdom, they had to create a whole new cabinet agency just to surmount that challenge. It would be great if Kushner would simply work on that one thing, or any one of these things. Instead, Kushner has now basically been saddled with several full-time jobs, in which he is responsible for fulfilling many, if not all, of his father-in-law’s campaign promises.
Just imagine what Kushner’s daily schedule is going to be like:
9:00-9:30: “Fox and Friends” debrief.
9:30-10:00: Provide broadband internet service to entire nation.
10:00-11:00: Stop working on providing broadband internet service to entire nation to focus on just providing it to entire government first.
11:30-1:00: Working lunch to solve the intractable Israel-Palestine peace process that adults in government have been working on to no avail for decades.
1:00-1:30: What do you mean there are other places in the Middle East that need tending to? FFS, people, I can’t possibly do everything!
1:30-2:00: Daily “I can’t possibly do everything” meeting with POTUS. POTUS reminds Kushner that the AHCA went down because he was off in Aspen, skiing.
2:00-2:15: Cancel all skiing vacations for the foreseeable future.
2:15-2:30: Search for another samovar of coffee to push through the rest of the afternoon.
2:30-3:30: Develop one “transformative project for America under the banner of Trump’s $1 billion infrastructure program.”
3:30-3:45: Meeting with POTUS to discuss “transformative project.” POTUS says there is still something missing.
3:45-4:15: WHAT IS IT MISSING? COME ON KUSHNER, THINK! YOU CAN DO THIS.
4:15-4:30: Trump’s name added to transformative project. POTUS signs off.
4:30-4:45: A brief wander through the White House. How did it come to this? Didn’t life used to be so much simpler? I could have done anything. I really would have liked to own the Dodgers. Oh, man, the crack of bat, fists pounding on leather, the scents of an afternoon ballgame? Heaven is a patch of well-manicured grass, the cheers of the crowd, fathers in the upper decks teaching their freckle-faced kids how to score the game, and nothing but the expanse of a hazy Southern California afternoon ahead of you. That should have been me. That’s what I was meant to do. How did I end up here? I only vaguely remember: My name, shouted in a certain dawn … a message … a summons … There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where I could have said – no. But somehow, I missed it.
4:45-6:00: Fix the VA system, the opioid crisis, streamline government, and maybe do some trade stuff?
6:00: Fifteen hours of weeping.
Oh, hey, I nearly forgot: For the time being, Kushner is going to be wrapped up in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into “ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin,” so that’s going to cut into a lot of these activities.
Now, the good news, if you’re Kushner, is that this latest thing he’ll be tapped to run may as well be called “the Office of Farming Out All This Work To Other People.” The Washington Post describes this agency as one that will “harvest ideas from the business world and, potentially, [privatize] some government functions.” (If you hate the VA hospital system now, just wait until it has a fiduciary responsibility to turn a profit for shareholders!)
Parker and Rucker report that this arrangement is “viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants” and is “designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington,” which is what I thought Trump was going to do himself.
Of course, “SWAT teams of strategic consultants” already exist ― they are called management consulting firms and one could presumably simply give them money to do things like overhaul veterans’ hospitals. But that wouldn’t give Kushner the chance to run his own version of McKinsey out of the White House, where he can build up his own prestige while commanding the participation of people like “Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce Chief Executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk” ― all of whom already have full-time jobs.
Still, we’re on the verge of someone having to write a “Can Jared Kushner Have It All” think piece, and it’s all down to the fact that Donald Trump seems to know very few people ― and trust even fewer ― and so task after task keeps being placed on the shoulders of a small inner circle of advisers. And at least two factions of that inner circle seems to openly loathe one another ― the Reince Priebus faction is made up of government careerists who are distrusted by the Steve Bannon faction, who want to humiliate career bureaucrats, dismantle the “administrative state,” and spend the rest of their free time oppressing immigrants and Muslims. Those are two legs of what Vox’s Matt Yglesias describes as Trump’s “three legged stool” of staffing, with the third being “the entire extended Trump family,” of which Kushner is the nominal head.
All of this means that Trump will likely never court some of the controversy that his predecessor, President Barack Obama faced. When Obama staffed up, he found different people to tackle different problems or run specific policy portfolios ― all of which led to extended criticism that he was placing a coterie of unaccountable “czars” (or if you prefer, “tsars”) in White House gigs. Trump is solving this dilemma by making Kushner the Everything Czar ― though it’s starting to look like Kushner is the de facto president, and Trump is the czar of golfing and tweeting.
But who knows if Kushner is going to be able to successfully take on this immense pile of work all by himself. Even if all he’ll be doing is shuttling the half-baked ideas of Silicon Valley CEOs up and down the administrative ladder, at some point, people are going to remember all the things for which Trump made his son-in-law responsible and wonder if this arrangement really makes sense. And the longer that actual solutions to these problems elude the Trump White House, the worse it will be for Kushner.
In the end, Donald Trump may have to do the one thing he’s long been loath to do: give his daughter Tiffany a job. (Also, he might have to take some personal responsibility for something.)