Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017 – 11:08 AM
Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner, has been caught in the spotlight of an FBI probe into Russian meddling, US media reported, heaping more pressure Friday on the embattled president.
The latest bombshell ensures that Trump will be thrust right back into the Russia scandal upon his return to Washington this weekend, after making his international debut with a tour of the Middle East and Europe.
Besides the Kushner development, which strikes at Trump’s core by drawing his family into the crisis, the White House also faces a cascade of other worries in the coming week.
Fired former FBI director James Comey has promised to testify at an as yet unscheduled open session before the Senate Intelligence Committee, sometime after Monday’s Memorial Day holiday.
And the White House staff itself could be facing upheaval. CBS News reported that Trump is expected to consider plans for a shakeup of his communications operation on his return from Europe.
- Kushner at center stage -
But Kushner, the polished 36-year-old who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is likely to take center stage in the coming days.
Reserved in public, he was on prominent view during Trump’s first presidential trip, as befits a trusted behind-the-scenes adviser involved in everything from Middle East peace to an initiative to streamline the US bureaucracy.
The Washington Post reported that investigators are focusing on meetings he held in December with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington and the head of a Russian bank that has been under US sanctions since 2014.
“Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” his lawyer Jamie Gorelick said in a statement.
“He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
The Post and other media were careful to note that their sources did not say Kushner was a “target” of the investigation, nor that he was accused of any wrongdoing.
If he were a “target,” it would suggest Kushner was a main suspect of the investigation.
The Post reported last week that the Russia investigation had been extended to a top White House official as a “significant person of interest.”
Kushner is the only person currently in the White House known to be under investigation.
- Russia contacts -
At least four other former campaign aides or advisers have been reported to be under FBI scrutiny as well — former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, sometime Trump adviser Roger Stone, and ex-campaign adviser Carter Page.
The FBI investigation is now being overseen by Robert Mueller, a respected former FBI director who was given broad powers to pursue the case as a special counsel after Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9.
The key question before the FBI is whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its effort to tilt the 2016 US election in the Republican’s favor, which included a damaging hack of Democratic campaign emails.
Trump has denied any collusion, calling the probe “the greatest witch hunt” in American political history.
Former CIA director John Brennan revealed this week that intelligence chiefs had been looking into suspicious contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials since mid-2016.
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees also are investigating, but not with an eye to bringing criminal charges.
In early December, after Trump had won the elections, Kushner and Flynn met in New York with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Kushner also met that month with Sergei Gorkov, chairman of VneshEconomBank, a state bank under US sanctions since July 2014.
Both those meetings have since been publicly acknowledged by the White House, but Kushner initially failed to declare them on forms submitted to obtain a security clearance.
His lawyer later said it was a mistake, telling the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he would amend the forms.
- In Trump’s house -
But those links place Kushner uncomfortably close to Flynn, who was fired in January for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his subsequent conversations with Kislyak.
“The FBI’s Russia investigation reached Trump’s backyard, and now it’s in his house,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement. “Kushner’s security clearance should be suspended until the FBI’s findings are complete.”
David Axelrod, former president Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist, said the focus on Kushner was not a surprise.
“Not just because he had contacts with Russians, but because he was such an integral part of both the campaign and the post campaign period,” he told CNN. “Jared Kushner was central to the operations of that campaign.”
© Agence France-Presse