May 19, Washington Post reporters Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky revealed a tantalizing detail about the investigations swirling around President Donald Trump.
“The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest,” they reported.
My immediate suspicions about the identity of this mystery person were confirmed in another story Thursday by Barrett, Zapotosky, Adam Entous and Sari Horwitz.
“Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe,” they reported. “FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.”
The next day, Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller provided more insight into what, exactly, may have aroused the FBI’s suspicions.
“Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring,” they reported. “Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2, 2016, at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. for the communications. The meeting also was attended by Flynn.”
Friday, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo interviewed other unnamed sources who offered a possible explanation.
“The idea behind the secret communications channel, the three people said, was for Russian military officials to brief Flynn about the Syrian war and to discuss ways to cooperate there. Neither side followed up on it,” they reported.
Scott Wilson, Washington Post national editor, was having none of it.
“We talked to these ‘people’ too,” he wrote on his Twitter account Saturday. “We would not publish their account unless we could signal they were speaking for Kushner. They refused.”
As for those who would go on the record as speaking for Kushner, their non-denial denials left much to be desired.
“Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner did not remember any calls with Kislyak between April and November,” reported Reuters’ Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay on Saturday. “‘Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described. We have asked [Reuters] for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information,’ she said.”
The White House had even less to say.
“As Trump and his entourage prepared to return to the U.S. from Italy on Saturday, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn fielded questions at a news briefing about [Kushner]. In spite of the questions, McMaster and Cohn flatly refused to discuss the matter, and White House officials demanded that the news briefing be conducted off-camera,” reported The Hill’s Max Greenwood. “‘We’re not going to comment on Jared,’ Cohn said. ‘We’re just not going to comment.’”
Kushner didn’t list these alleged contacts on his SF 86 form for security clearance for government employment. If convicted, this would constitute a federal crime, with a penalty of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years. If I had to guess who will be the beneficiary of Trump’s first presidential pardon, then, as the famous TV jewelry advertising jingle goes: “It can only be Jared.”
Rob Burgess, Tribune city editor, may be reached at email@example.com.