Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner's business dealings

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser, as part of the inquiry into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post reported, citing officials familiar with the matter.

FBI agents and federal prosecutors have also been examining the financial dealings of other Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Carter Page, who was listed as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign.

The Washington Post had earlier reported that investigators were scrutinizing separate meetings that Kushner held with Russians in December — first with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a state-owned Russian development bank. At the time of that report it was not clear that the FBI was investigating Kushner's business dealings.

The officials who described the financial focus of the investigation spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

At the December meeting with Kislyak, Kushner suggested establishing a secure communications line between Trump officials and the Kremlin at a Russian diplomatic facility, according to U.S. officials who reviewed intelligence reports describing Kislyak's account.

The White House has said the subsequent meeting with the banker was a pre-inauguration diplomatic encounter, unrelated to business matters. The Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea, has said the session was held for business reasons because of Kushner's role as head of his family's real estate company. The meeting occurred 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, and it could raise questions about whether Kushner's personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.

Mueller's investigation is still in a relatively early phase, and it is unclear if any criminal charges will be brought when it is complete.

"We do not know what this report refers to," said Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer for Kushner. "It would be standard practice for the special counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia. Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry."

Kushner has agreed to discuss his Russian contacts with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting one of several investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Kushner rarely speaks publicly about his role in the White House, but he has become a major figure in the administration with a sprawling list of policy responsibilities that include Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment for this story, but said "that the special counsel's office has undertaken stringent controls to prohibit unauthorized disclosures and will deal severely with any member who engages in this conduct."

Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, is investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, and related matters. The inquiry has expanded to include an examination of whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice, the Post reported Wednesday.

Trump on Thursday tweeted that the investigation was "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history — led by some very bad and conflicted people!"

Trump also compared his position to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in another tweet.

"Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?" he wrote.

After Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Trump said that Comey had told him three times that he was not under investigation. Comey confirmed that in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. The first time he told Trump was in his first meeting with the president before the inauguration on Jan. 6.

Before he met with the president, Comey gathered his leadership team at the FBI to discuss with them whether he should be prepared to assure then-President-elect Trump that the FBI was not investigating him personally.

Comey testified that not everyone on his FBI team agreed he should. Comey did not name the dissenter, but the Washington Post has learned it was FBI general counsel James Baker. Comey testified that the member of his leadership team said that although it was true at the moment that Trump was not under investigation, it was possible that could change.

"His concern was, because we're looking at the potential — again, that's the subject of the investigation — coordination between the campaign and Russia, because it was President Trump — President-elect Trump's campaign, this person's view was, inevitably, his behavior, his conduct will fall within the scope of that work," Comey said.

"And so he was reluctant to make the statement that I made," Comey said.

Baker's views didn't change, even as Comey told Trump a second and third time that he was not being investigated.

"His view was still that it . . . could be misleading, because the nature of the investigation was such that it might well touch — obviously, it would touch the campaign, and the person at the head of the campaign would be the candidate. And so that was his view throughout," Comey said.

Baker declined to comment.

Trump fired Comey on May 9. Discussing the firing, Trump said in an interview with NBC, "In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.' "

Comey took notes after each of his nine meetings or phone calls with Trump, including one alone with the president in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn was forced to resign. Comey testified that Trump said to him, "I hope you can let this go." The president has denied that he told Comey to drop the Flynn investigation.

Comey told lawmakers he gave notes he had taken after that meeting and his other eight meetings or phone calls he had with Trump to Mueller.

Two senior intelligence officials, Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller as early as this week.

Trump spoke to Coats and Rogers about the Russia investigation, according to officials. Coats told associates that Trump asked him whether he could intervene with Comey to get the FBI to back off its focus on Flynn, the officials said. Coats later told lawmakers he never felt pressured to intervene.

Trump later telephoned Coats and Rogers to separately ask them to issue public statements denying that there was any evidence of coordination between Trump's campaign and Russian officials. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the president's requests, officials said.

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