the guilty plea to the same charge by Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s deputy, may pose a real danger to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. According to reports, Mr. Mueller appears to be assessing whether Mr. Kushner, in the guise of pursuing foreign policy on behalf of the United States, was actually serving the interests of his family and foreign governments.
.. the United States government has intercepted communications of foreign leaders talking about ways they could take advantage of Mr. Kushner, whose family real estate empire is facing substantial debt woes.
.. when Mr. Kushner was negotiating President Trump’s first visit to China, his family business was trying to sell a debt-ridden property in New York to an insurance company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Public scrutiny of the deal scuttled it. Last May, The New York Times described how, immediately after the Trump administration extended a visa program for wealthy investors, Mr. Kushner’s sister invoked Mr. Kushner in a presentation seeking Chinese investment in one of the family’s New Jersey real estate developments.
.. But Mr. Kushner might face more trouble to the extent he keeps such negotiations secret from those in charge of carrying out United States foreign policy.
.. He was still making updates to his forms as recently as January. That means he has conducted an entire year of foreign policy without officially disclosing all the personal interests he may have been serving.
.. the risk might be greater still if Mr. Kushner negotiated such deals before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. That’s the possibility raised by Mr. Kushner’s pre-inauguration meetings with Russia. In December 2016, Mr. Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a bank under American sanctions, Vnesheconombank.
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience
.. Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico
.. H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report.
.. The issue of foreign officials talking about their meetings with Kushner and their perceptions of his vulnerabilities was a subject raised in McMaster’s daily intelligence briefings
.. Kushner’s lack of government experience and his business debt were seen from the beginning of his tenure as potential points of leverage that foreign governments could use to influence him
.. Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was “naive and being tricked”
.. conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel
.. White House officials said McMaster was taken aback by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts.
.. Kushner came to his position with an unusually complex set of business holdings and a family company facing significant debt issues.
.. Officials from the UAE identified Kushner as early as the spring of 2017 as particularly manipulable because of his family’s search for investors in their real estate company
.. Not fully disclosing foreign contacts ordinarily would result in a clearance being denied, experts said.
.. One of his top business concerns was what to do with his family’s investment in 666 Fifth Ave. in New York, which the company bought under his direction for $1.8 billion in 2007, the highest price paid at the time for a U.S. office tower
.. leaving the company with a $1.2 billion debt that comes due in January 2019.
.. The Manhattan property has been a particularly nettlesome problem inside the government because Kushner’s company has sought foreign money on the project.
.. Kushner and his company had proposed a redevelopment plan that would double the building’s size, requiring major new investment.
.. They met with an executive of a Chinese-run insurance company, Anbang
.. They also discussed a possible investment by the former finance minister of Qatar
.. Questions have also been raised about whether Kushner discussed financing with a Russian banker. He met in December 2016 with Sergey Gorkov
.. The bank has said they talked about “promising business lines and sectors,”
.. With the deadline for the $1.2 billion debt looming, the company has continued to search for a lender. The redevelopment plan appears to be on hold
.. The company, which is privately held, has stressed that the Fifth Avenue property is a small fraction of its assets and that it is doing well financially.
In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.
.. The Trumps insist that the president himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
.. That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.
.. Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.
.. James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.
.. Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.
CNN invited former Republican New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu to defend President Donald Trump’s handling of the deepening Russia scandal, but he spent most of the time denying that Trump or his team had done anything wrong — much to the amusement of CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.
During the interview, Camerota asked Sununu what he thought about Jared Kushner during the transition arranging both a back channel to communicate with Russian government officials using their own equipment and to meet with the head of a Russian state bank.
Sununu’s response was that there was nothing improper about it at all.
“I don’t think there is anything there,” Sununu said. “So you’re implying — you’re implying — because during the ten weeks [of the presidential transition] everybody is trying to meet the administration. Everybody who is involved in business. Everybody who is involved in politics. I can’t tell you how many people tried to meet with me between the time I was named chief of staff.”
Camerota then asked Sununu, who served as chief of staff to former President George H.W. Bush, if he’d ever met with the head of a Russian bank during a presidential transition.
“No, but I had breakfast with the vice president at the Russian embassy, and a lot of folks there started talking to me!” Sununu said, which prompted Camerota to snicker.
“Would you have carved out time to meet with a Russian banker with ties to Vladimir Putin if he asked?” she then asked him.
“I’m not even sure what would have happened,” he said. “First of all, Putin wasn’t there. Look, you’re asking hypotheticals on hypotheticals.”
At the end of the interview, Camerota struggled to keep herself from laughing as she told Sununu that “we appreciate your perspective that there is nothing to see here, and that the investigation is, I don’t know, silly.”
Shep Smith blistered white House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Tuesday afternoon for refusing to put Kushner contacts with the Russia story to rest.
Speaking with Politico report Josh Gerstein, Smith pointed out the obvious: that Spicer still hasn’t denied reports that Kushner held inappropriate meetings with Russians.
“Remember how they found out about it in the first place,” Smith asked. “Yeah a leak, But how? Here’s how they found out — they were monitoring the Russians. While they are monitoring the Russians, as the story goes, all of a sudden there’s Jared Kushner. There they are discussing a backchannel that doesn’t involve the United States equipment but Russian equipment.”
“If that didn’t happen, if Jared Kushner wasn’t trying to hide things from the United States, then why would he do that?” he continued. “If he didn’t do that, please deny it so we can move on. That opportunity was given today in the White House press briefing.”
A Washington Post report suggests the president’s son-in-law and adviser sought to give Moscow information he wanted to conceal from America’s own intelligence agencies.
.. If Kushner did in fact make the request, that alone would have put him in a compromising position, since Russian officials could have used it as leverage against him.
But what is also peculiar is the level of trust Kushner would have been placing in Russian officials in asking for such a communications channel. Foreign affairs is often complex, yet Kushner didn’t want the U.S. government’s help—or supervision.
.. “It shows a level of trust in Russian intelligence, and Russian diplomatic personnel beyond the level of trust afforded to American intelligence and American personnel.”
.. Communicating with Moscow using Russian facilities could have shielded Kushner’s correspondence from U.S. intelligence agencies, without denying their Russian counterparts the same access.
.. “The only reason you would operate that way is if you were hiding something from your own government. That’s it. That’s the only plausible explanation,”
.. Reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have cited anonymous administration officials claiming that the purpose of the communications would have been to discuss the Syrian civil war. But that explanation raises similar issues: If that was the topic, why would Kushner want to cut out U.S. officials? And why couldn’t it wait until after the transition?