The suspicious circumstances of Kushner’s secret meeting with a Kremlin-connected banker

Kushner is under investigation as part of the probe of the Trump campaign and Russia.

Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, left, Senior Adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner, center, and Vice President Mike Pence watch as Trump signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on January 20. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, left, Senior Adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner, center, and Vice President Mike Pence watch as Trump signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House on January 20. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that “[i]nvestigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.”

The meetings in question happened in December. One of them involved Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, head of Vnesheconombank, a state-owned Russian bank that is still under American sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. That meeting occurred as Kushner, who was still head of Kushner Companies at the time, was looking for investors to redevelop the Manhattan office building he paid $1.8 billion to purchase in 2007.

When news of the Kushner-Gorkov meeting was first reported by the New York Times in March, White House spokesperson Hope Hicks said the two met to talk diplomacy — not try and strike a business deal.

But Vnesheconombank told a different story. In a statement emailed to Reuters and other outlets, the espionage-linked bank said that Gorkov, who was appointed to his position as chair of the bank by Russian President Vladimir Putin, met “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

Despite President Trump’s repeated denials that he has any financial relationship with Russia, he has known financial ties with Vnesheconombank. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the state-owned Russian bank financed an $850 million deal with a Trump business partner.

In anticipation of working in the White House, Kushner sold his ownership stakes in Kushner companies, but government ethics experts “argue that the Kushner family and business are so close-knit that the steps Jared Kushner has taken do not go far enough” to mitigate conflicts of interest, Bloomberg reported in March.

A lawyer told the New York Times that Kushner is involved in a “shell game” since he can reacquire his assets as soon as his government work ends. And in the meantime, he’ll still have an interest in deals that benefit his family.

Kushner’s meeting with Gorkov was arranged by Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who had previously met in Trump Tower with Kushner and Michael Flynn. Flynn served as Trump’s national security adviser until the Washington Post broke news that he lied to the FBI about his pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak, some of which involved discussion of Russian sanctions.

Shortly after his meeting with Kushner, Gorkov — who graduated from Russia’s Federal Security Service security agency, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB — went on a Russian state-owned television station and said he was hopeful the financial constraints placed on Russian banks like his by the American sanctions “would change for the better,” the New York Times reported.

Trump administration officials, as recently as Thursday, have said the president is “looking at” lifting Russian sanctions.

Kushner didn’t disclose either of his meetings with the Russians on his security clearance application. He wasn’t alone in that omission among Trump administration officials — CNN reported Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions also didn’t disclose meetings with Russian officials when applying for a security clearance. (Flynn, for his part, didn’t disclose money he received from Russia on his — an omission House Intelligence Committee members say appears to have violated the law.)

Kushner reportedly is one of the few Trump aides who has defended Flynn even after his firing. He was also one of the handful of White House voices urging Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey amid an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, according to the New York Times.

Less than two weeks after Comey’s firing, Kushner now finds himself as the only current White House official confirmed to be under scrutiny. The Post reports that he’s under investigation “because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians.”

“In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined,” the Post adds.

NBC reports that investigators “believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry,” but that “does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.”

Kushner’s lawyer says he will cooperate with investigators. That approach stands in contrast with Flynn, who rejected a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena on records related to the secret lobbying work he was doing during a presidential campaign in which he also served as one of Trump’s most visible advisers.