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.
How the President’s son-in-law, despite his inexperience in diplomacy, became Beijing’s primary point of interest... Kushner was intent on bringing a businessman’s sensibility to matters of state. He believed that fresh, confidential relationships could overcome the frustrations of traditional diplomatic bureaucracy. Henry Kissinger, who, in his role as a high-priced international consultant, maintains close relationships in the Chinese hierarchy, had introduced Kushner to Cui during the campaign.. On at least one occasion, they met alone, which counterintelligence officials considered risky. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,”.. you think your background is going to allow you to be able to outsmart the Chinese Ambassador?.. Americans are accustomed to reports of Russia’s efforts to influence American politics, but, in the intelligence community, China’s influence operations are a source of equal concern... “The Chinese influence operations are more long-term, broader in scope, and are generally designed to achieve a more diffuse goal than the Russians’ are,”.. Kushner often excluded the government’s top China specialists from his meetings with Cui, a slight that rankled and unnerved the bureaucracy. “He went in utterly unflanked by anyone who could find Beijing on a map,”.. Kushner was “their lucky charm,”.. “It was a dream come true. They couldn’t believe he was so compliant.”.. By the end of the Obama Administration, seven White House officials were authorized to receive the same version of the P.D.B. that appeared on the President’s iPad. The Trump Administration expanded the number to as many as fourteen people, including Kushner. A former senior official said, of the growing P.D.B. distribution list, “It got out of control. Everybody thought it was cool. They wanted to be cool.”.. Kushner’s difficulty obtaining a permanent security clearance has become a subject of fascination. Was it his early failure to disclose foreign contacts? Or did it have something to do with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections?.. Kushner had established links to China. A Kushner project in Jersey City, which opened in November, 2016, reportedly received about fifty million dollars, nearly a quarter of its financing, from Chinese investors who are not publicly named, through a U.S. immigration program known as EB-5, which allows wealthy foreigners to obtain visas by investing in American projects... Ivanka Trump has her own business endeavors in China, where some of her branded handbags, shoes, and clothes are manufactured... Trump would be “inundated with requests for thousands of calls from around the world,” they warned, through “campaign staff, outside advisers, and other third parties.” He must not accept them. Requests must be “methodically returned” in “a sequence of calls that will not create any diplomatic incidents or negative press stories.”.. The President-elect must have a classified intelligence briefing before conversations with foreign leaders, and then conduct the meetings only when a note-taker and a national-security aide are present.The aides suggested that Trump make five “waves” of calls over a number of days, starting with the United Kingdom and ending with Pakistan.
.. “Obviously, all that just got tossed aside,” a senior transition official recalled recently, because Trump was “excited that important people were calling him.”
.. In another break with protocol, Trump was accompanied to the meeting by his daughter and son-in-law, while they were still running their respective businesses.
.. he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totalling hundreds of millions of dollars.
.. In 2007, the Kushner Companies had bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a forty-one-story office tower, for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. The deal turned out to be a potential disaster for Kushner.
.. he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building’s finances.
.. On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu’s possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue.
.. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.
.. In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business. On December 13th, at the recommendation of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank... Schiff pointed to statements by V.E.B. and a spokesman for Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, which suggest that Kushner held the meeting in his capacity as head of the Kushner Companies... On December 2nd, encouraged by the fiercest anti-China hawks among his advisers, including Steve Bannon, at that time his chief strategist, Trump took a telephone call from the President of Taiwan.. Chinese officials turned to the man that Kissinger had recommended to them: Jared Kushner. Kushner later told others that he took on the China portfolio reluctantly, after “clamoring” Chinese officials called Trump Tower and asked for him by name... “It was clear that heated arguments were taking place among the President’s advisers.” On one side, hard-liners, including Bannon, who has said he believes that China is “bent on world domination,” advocated a confrontational stance on trade and other issues. On the other, according to Russel, “Jared Kushner was described as adamant that Mar-a-Lago should be exclusively about bonding.” Russel continued, “We were told that the theory was to first establish a warm family friendship, using meals and Trump’s personal charisma.”.. China overwhelmingly achieved its objectives: a soft-focus summit with regal photo ops and little talk of trade and other touchy subjects. It was also an auspicious occasion for the Kushner family. While Xi met with Trump, Beijing regulators approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, to sell bags, jewelry, and spa services... Somebody with more experience, tied to the old ways, may not have necessarily been able to pull off the Mar-a-Lago summit like we did.” He added that the officials who have criticized his approach to foreign affairs “usually get pretty uncomfortable when they’re not in control of something and it doesn’t go the way they want.”.. Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner’s business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner’s views... But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner’s close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time... Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. Kushner and Ivanka Trump had known her for about a decade, and she was a regular guest at their Washington home. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch’s ties to the Chinese government.. In November, the Chinese Society of Education issued a video quiz for primary-school students, which included the question “What number should you dial when you spot spying activities?”.. The President’s children resist the argument that their undivested assets, their behavior, and their willingness to mix government service and personal profit present a target to adversaries and allies alike... The senior transition official believes that’s a mistake. “They’re going to slowly, over time, get what they want out of him, and it’s not going to be obvious,”.. Still, by his own description, he is as confident as ever that his instincts, honed in the family business.. Porter read aloud from “The Inner Ring,” a 1944 oration by C. S. Lewis. It was Porter’s warning to his ambitious students about the temptations that haunt higher office, and the allure of favor-seekers... “You will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.”
The White House and a Russian state-owned bank have very different explanations for why the bank’s chief executive and Jared Kushner held a secret meeting during the presidential transition in December.
The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
.. The discrepancy has thrust Vnesheconombank, known for advancing the strategic interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin and for its role in a past U.S. espionage case, into the center of the controversy
.. And it has highlighted the role played by the bank’s 48-year-old chief executive, Sergey Gorkov, a graduate of the academy of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the domestic intelligence arm of the former Soviet KGB
.. A diplomatic meeting would have provided the bank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014, a chance to press for rolling back the penalties even as the Obama administration was weighing additional retaliations against Moscow for Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
A business meeting between an international development bank and a real estate executive, coming as Kushner’s company had been seeking financing for its troubled $1.8 billion purchase of an office building on Fifth Avenue in New York, could raise questions about whether Kushner’s personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.
.. Practically speaking, according to experts, the bank functions as an arm of the Kremlin, boosting Putin’s political priorities.
.. “Basically, VEB operates like Putin’s slush fund,”
.. “It carries out major Kremlin operations that Putin does not want to do through the state budget.”
.. While Gorkov was a deputy head of Sberbank, it was one of the sponsors of the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow produced by Trump, who owned the pageant.
.. Experts on Russia’s security services said that it would have been unlikely for Gorkov to meet with Kushner and not discuss sanctions.
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.”