Storm clouds have been gathering above the lightly-tousled head of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and trusted White House adviser, since April. But they split wide open this week amid damaging revelations about Kushner’s participation in a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, in addition to a fresh report about investigators’ interest in the data operation he was responsible for during the campaign.
Already a “person of interest” in the special counsel’s probe on multiple fronts, federal investigators are now looking into Kushner’s attendance at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was one of more than 100 foreign contacts disclosed in three separate revisions to his security clearance forms. They’re also probing whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation, which Kushner oversaw, coordinated with Russia to guide fake news stories to key districts in swing states.
Democratic lawmakers and political observers on both sides of the aisle are questioning how Kushner can maintain the security clearance he needs to work on his overstuffed portfolio, or if he can even stay in the West Wing at all, given those reports. On top of that, White House aides and Trump’s legal team have been spilling in the press their concerns that Kushner’s continued presence is endangering the President.
Kushner, who is known for keeping his head down, has made no public comment on the latest revelations. TPM’s requests for comment to the White House press office were forwarded to Kushner’s spokesperson, who did not respond.
It’s unclear whether Kushner intentionally omitted all of his foreign contacts from the security clearance form he initially filed in January; why he needed to file three amended disclosures to detail the more than 100 foreign contacts he did have; what he discussed in those conversations with foreign nationals; and why he agreed, on very short notice, to attend a meeting billed as an opportunity to obtain dirt from a “Russian government lawyer” as part of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign. That sit-down with Veselnitskaya apparently only came to light because Kushner’s lawyers discovered it as they reviewed documents to prepare for his testimony before Congress, prompting him to immediately file a supplementary disclosure.
“I’ve worked with colleagues over the years whose clearance was suspended or revoked for far smaller violations than leaving something of this consequence off their SF-86,” Derek Chollet, strategic planning director on Obama’s National Security Council, told TPM, using shorthand for the Standard Form 86 security clearance application.
Trump’s advisers and supporters have invoked the trite phrase “nothing burger” to brush aside concerns about the Veselnitskaya meeting, and the President has insisted it was nothing more than a “very standard” example of trying to obtain opposition research. Many opposition researchers and GOP strategists have argued otherwise, noting that this was an offer from a foreign agent to meddle in another country’s political affairs.
“If he’s had a meeting with a former employer or a private-sector company or a friendly foreign government that’d be one thing, but given that it’s Russia, it’s in an entirely different category,” Republican strategist and campaign veteran Matt Mackowiak told TPM. “And should be.”
Other longtime political operatives, many of whom have been highly critical of the Trump administration, say that Kushner’s meetings are grounds for dismissal or resignation.
“Still marinating on fact that the below actually happened and 0 people have quit,” former Jeb Bush communications director Tim Miller, wrote on Twitter.
Still marinating on fact that the below actually happened and 0 people have quit. https://t.co/tfU1JMmwWv
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) July 13, 2017
Former Obama Justice Department spokesperson Matt Miller called it an “unbelievable scandal” that Kushner retained his White House post and security clearance.
The fact that Kushner will show up at the WH w/ his job & security clearance intact tomorrow given what we know is an unbelievable scandal.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) July 11, 2017
Kushner’s foreign contacts have dogged him since the New York Times first reported in April that meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank under U.S. sanctions were among those omitted on his SF-86. That report first prompted calls from Democratic lawmakers for Kushner’s interim security clearance to be revoked, which grew louder the following month with news he proposed establishing a secret, secure communications channel with Russia during the transition to the White House.
Meanwhile, federal investigators are reviewing Kushner’s personal finances and Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey over the “Russia thing,” which Kushner reportedly supported. Trump’s legal team is growing concerned that Kushner’s centrality to the Russia investigation and closeness to the President could pose a legal risk.
The Times reported that Kushner had told Trump about the Veselnitskaya meeting when he filed his amended disclosure about it, but that he downplayed its significance, assuring his father-in-law that nothing valuable was learned.
Private conversations like that are deeply troubling to Trump’s outside legal team, which is working overtime to minimize his exposure to the Russia scandal, according to reports in the Times and Axios.
The ring on Kushner’s finger provides the best form of job security, as the President is unlikely to fire the husband of his daughter and close White House adviser, Ivanka. But Trump hasn’t said much of anything about Kushner this week, even as he’s defended his son, Donald Trump, Jr., who invited Kushner to the rendezvous with Veselnitskaya.
In a Thursday press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump called his eldest son a “great young man” and a “fine person.” He did not reference Kushner, who by all accounts skipped out of the meeting early, by name, noting only there were “two other people in the room.”
Mackowiak said to expect more strategic distancing and drawn knives from this notoriously leaky, fractious administration as the multiple Russia investigations ramp up.
“Three months ago all their interests were aligned,” he said. “As the story continues to develop, that breaks down over time. They all have their own interests, they all have their own legal strategies, they have to think about themselves.”