Can Jared Kushner Outrun the Russia Nightmare? – Vanity Fair
In a White House defined by inexplicable ties to Russia, Jared Kushner has always had an explanation at the ready. His encounters with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which he failed to disclose on his security clearance forms, were apparently not particularly memorable. “He didn’t think there was any need for a follow-up,” a White House official told the Hive in May, shortly after it was reported that the F.B.I. was looking into his dealings with Russian officials. Ditto his sit-down with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank that is currently the subject of U.S. sanctions. It’s “business as usual,” an official said after it was reported that Kushner and Kislyak had talked about using secure Russian diplomatic facilities to set up a secret communication channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.
At the time, Kushner’s attorney,__ Jamie Gorelick,__ noted that her client “previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings.” She was similarly dismissive after news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller was looking into Kushner’s business dealings during his tenure at his family’s real-estate company. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia,” she explained. Last month, when Kushner added superstar trial lawyer Abbe Lowell to his personal legal team, Gorelick characterized the move as a standard step, given that she had worked with Mueller at WilmerHale.
But as Donald Trump’s legal troubles deepen and the Russia investigation spirals closer to home, West Wing staffers are beginning to worry about Kushner. On Tuesday, The New York Times revealed that Donald Trump Jr. had held a meeting last summer with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, ostensibly in hopes of obtaining what was promised to be “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton].” The e-mail chain, between Trump Jr. and an intermediary working on behalf of a Russian client with ties to Vladimir Putin, stated explicitly, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort were both c.c.’d on the thread, and later attended the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.
While Trump Jr. has come under fire for eagerly accepting the meeting—a fateful decision that is alternatively being described as collusion or mere stupidity—the president’s son no longer works for his father. Kushner, on the other hand, is now in the White House. As Axios’s Mike Allen noted, “No one has spent more time with Trump throughout the past year—and has seen or knows more.” (In a statement, Kushner’s attorney reiterated that he had more than 100 calls or meetings with representatives of multiple countries, and that he has submitted additional federal disclosure updates, including one documenting “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr.”)
Given his outsize role in Trump’s campaign and presidency, the investigation into Kushner, perhaps not surprisingly, continues to expand. On Wednesday, McClatchy D.C. reported that the Justice Department and House and Senate Intelligence Committee are also looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital team coordinated with the Russian government during the 2016 election—and whether Kushner, who oversaw the campaign’s digital operation, played a “role as a possible cut-out or conduit for Moscow’s influence operations in the elections.” (The White House had not responded to the Hive’s request for comment by the time of publication.)
The question that both Congressional and D.O.J. investigators hope to answer is how the Russian government managed to so effectively identify and target unexpectedly influential voter populations in key states, down to the precinct level. According to McClatchy, one source said that investigators wonder whether Russia would have “known where to specifically target” without assistance from another party. “There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia’s online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation,” Mike Carpenter, who left a senior post at the Pentagon in January, said.
With an army of “bots” wielding pro-Trump messaging and “fake-news” stories about Clinton, the Russian government targeted a number of key precincts in states that Clinton narrowly lost last year. “It appears that, for example, women and African-Americans were targeted in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, where the Democrats were too brain-dead to realize those states were even in play,” Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said during an interview with Pod Save America. “I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware really raises some questions.”
This is where Kushner appears to have come under scrutiny. In an interview with Forbes just weeks after the election, titled “How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House,” the president’s son-in-law boasted about how the campaign worked with data company Cambridge Analytica to micro-target voting populations. Now, investigators are reportedly trying to determine whether the Trump campaign, under Kushner’s guidance, might have aided the Russian government by helping identify areas that had unexpectedly weak support for Clinton. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told McClatchy that he wants to know if the Kremlin’s influence campaign was “coordinated in any way in terms of targeting or in terms of timing or in terms of any other measure . . . with the (Trump) campaign” and if there was “any exchange of information, any financial support funneled to organizations that were doing this kind of work.”
To be clear, there is currently no evidence to suggest that Kushner or anyone else associated with Trump’s data operation aided Russia’s propaganda efforts during the 2016 campaign. Which is not to say that Trump’s data operation might not have received aid, however indirectly, from Russia. In May, Florida-based G.O.P. strategist Aaron Nevins confirmed that he had received 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic voter data from Guccifer 2.0, the alleged front for Russian intelligence agents that hacked the Democratic National Committee last year. Nevins, who described the data as a treasure trove of congressional district-level information, posted some of the documents to his blog, allowing anyone to access voter data for a number of critical battleground states including Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than 80,000 votes, as well as Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.