The expanding federal investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election is shining new light on the central role played by one member of President Trump’s inner circle — his son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner — in reaching out to Moscow.
The latest disclosure — that even before Trump took office Kushner directed campaign foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn to try to persuade Russia to quash a United Nations resolution — is one example of numerous Kushner contacts with Moscow and meetings with Russian intermediaries now under scrutiny by investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Kushner, a 36-year-old former Manhattan real estate developer and Washington neophyte, may be key as Mueller pursues the still-unresolved mystery of whether Trump’s campaign had improper dealings with Russia, a charge that Kushner denies.
Revelations about Kushner’s Russia contacts have been dribbling out for months, forcing Kushner and other Trump aides who denied or downplayed them to repeatedly backtrack.
But with Flynn now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators, Kushner’s role in handling outreach to foreign governments for Trump is likely to get even more scrutiny from investigators. Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his own Russia contacts.
Publicly Trump insists he is not worried, telling reporters Saturday there had been “absolutely no collusion” with Moscow, but adding, “We’ll see what happens.”
In the wake of Flynn’s plea deal, Democrats on both the House and Senate intelligence committees said they wanted Kushner, who appeared in private before both panels in July, to return to answer new questions about his dealings with Russian officials and intermediaries from Moscow.
“Mike Flynn wasn’t acting as a free agent. He was acting at the behest of very senior people close to the president or the president himself,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “If Mr. Kushner was involved in that, he’d have a lot to tell us that he hasn’t told us so far.”
Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment on Kushner’s Russia contacts.
Kushner has described himself as an overworked and inexperienced campaign aide who was “forced to make changes on the fly” when it came to Russia.
"I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner said after July’s closed-door meeting with investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump cycled through a cadre of high-level aides during the presidential campaign, but Kushner remained a trusted advisor with one particularly unassailable credential — he is family through his marriage to Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka.
After running his real estate company like a family business, Trump saw no reason to change course while campaigning or after winning the White House. Kushner joined the administration and received a vast portfolio of responsibilities, including overhauling the federal government with the newly created Office of American Innovation and pursuing a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
He has insisted that his initial failure to report his meetings with the Russians or any other foreigners on forms required for a government security clearance was not deliberate. He blamed an aide who he said had mistakenly submitted the form, known as an SF-86, before it was complete, and said that he later updated it.
As a trusted advisor, Kushner was the intermediary with foreign officials, a role that led to several contacts with Russian officials, either directly or through intermediaries.
According to court papers disclosed on Friday, Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of Trump’s transition team — identified by a former official as Kushner — to lobby Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and officials from other foreign governments in an attempt to delay or defeat a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israel in December 2016.
Trump had publicly opposed the resolution, saying it “puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
But the Trump team’s attempts to block the resolution was at odds with the position taken by the Obama administration, which still occupied the White House and planned to let the resolution pass.
The attempts to influence the vote, which a person familiar with the transition described as a collaborative endeavor by multiple high-ranking members of Trump’s team, did not succeed. Kislyak said Russia would not vote against the resolution, which passed after the United States abstained.
Earlier that month, at a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Kislyak asked Kushner whether the Trump transition office had a secure telephone line that Trump’s aides could use to talk to Russian generals about the war in Syria.
Because none was available, Kushner said he asked about using one at the Russian Embassy instead to conduct “direct discussions” with Moscow.
He said that after Kislyak, who was recalled to Moscow last summer, told him that was impossible, they agreed to follow up after the inauguration. Kushner did not explain why the Trump team did not simply ask to use a secure U.S. government line.
In contrast to Flynn, who admitted this week in court that he and Kislyak had discussed U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Kushner has said that he did not discuss lifting the sanctions.
Kushner met Kislyak in April 2016 at a foreign policy speech by Trump at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
Kushner also held a Dec. 13 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, head of the state-owned Vnesheconombank, Russia’s national development bank. He said he took the meeting at Kislyak’s urging because Gorkov had a "direct relationship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian bank described the session in March as part of a new outreach to “a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.” Kushner, by contrast, said he and Gorkov did not discuss “private business of any kind.”
In testimony to Congress last summer, Kushner also denied having any contact with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, during the campaign, according to a statement from his lawyer, and said he could not recall anyone from the campaign having such contacts.
WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing hacked emails that U.S. intelligence agencies say were obtained through Russia's attempt to interfere with the presidential election.
But Kushner was forced to backtrack when the Atlantic magazine revealed last month that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., forwarded a message from WikiLeaks to Kushner and others.
Lowell said his client did not respond to the email and was not in touch with WikiLeaks.
"Mr. Kushner had no contacts with that organization," he wrote in a letter last month to the Senate Judiciary Committee after the panel's bipartisan leadership requested more documents from him.
Kushner also attended a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney introduced to Trump Jr. as “a Russian government attorney” who was part of “its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”