Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation (Washington Post link): Investigators 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.
Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.
The Washington Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high-stakes investigation, though it did not name Kushner.
FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.
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.
Kushner Is Said to Have Discussed a Secret Channel to Talk to Russia (The New York Times link): Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.
The conversation between Mr. Kushner and the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time. Also present at the meeting was Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, the three people said.
It is unclear who first proposed the communications channel, but the people familiar with the meeting said the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues. The communications channel was never set up, the people said.
The three people were not authorized to discuss the December meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The White House declined to comment on Friday night.
News of the discussion was first reported by The Washington Post. The revelation has stoked new questions about Mr. Kushner’s connections to Russian officials at a time when the F.B.I. is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers assisted in the Russian campaign.
Ex-CIA Director: CIA would consider Kushner actions 'espionage' (The Hill link): Former acting CIA director John McLaughlan on Friday responded to reports that President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner discussed setting up a secret communications line between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, saying if such reports are true, it would be considered espionage.
"I don’t want to overstate this because obviously there is a lot we don’t know — we don’t know the exact content of the conversation. We don’t know the objective that was a part of the conversation — those things we don’t know," McLaughlan said on MSNBC's "The Last Word" Friday.
"But I can’t keep out of my mind the thought that, if an American intelligence officer had done anything like this, we’d consider it espionage.”
The president's son-in-law and senior adviser inquired about using Russian diplomatic facilities for the communications, apparently to shield the talks, U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports told The Washington Post.
Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak told his superiors that Kushner floated the idea during a meeting at Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or 2, according to the Post, which cited intercepts of Russian communications reviewed by U.S. officials.
Following the reports on Friday, the Democratic National Committee called for Kushner's immediate firing from his White House position.
When asked what his first reaction would be if reports are proven true, McLaughlan said he'd ask himself, "is this a prank?"
“[The reaction] would be kind of disbelief, because it’s not the sort of they think you would expect to happen in a normal transition," he said.
'This is serious': Jared Kushner reportedly tried to set up a secret Trump-Russia back channel (Business Insider link): Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top White House adviser, was willing to go extraordinary lengths to establish a secret line of communication between the Trump administration and Russian government officials, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
During the presidential transition period leading up to Trump's inauguration, Kushner held a series of meetings with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, and the head of a Moscow bank that was under US sanctions.
In talks with Kislyak in December, Kushner floated the possibility of setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia — and having those talks take place in Russian diplomatic facilities in the US, essentially concealing their interactions from US government scrutiny, The Post wrote, citing US intelligence officials briefed on the matter.
Kislyak reportedly passed along that request to Moscow. The Post's Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller reported that the Russian ambassador was "taken aback" by Kushner's request, because it posed significant risks for both the Trump team and the Kremlin.
Kushner, who did not disclose the meeting on his security clearance form, is now a subject in the FBI's investigation of Russia's election interference, and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to undermine Hillary Clinton.
He also had two previously undisclosed phone calls with Kislyak between April and November of last year, according to Reuters. Kushner's attorney James Gorelick responded to the Reuters story Friday evening via CNN, saying "Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described. We have asked (Reuters) for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information."
"GOOD GRIEF. This is serious," said Bob Deitz, a veteran of the NSA and the CIA who worked under the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Mod: More news of the Trump Family's adventures in Washington as it breaks.