On Thursday night, May 25, The Washington Post reported that the F.B.I. investigation into alleged ties between Donald Trump's staff, including potential collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 president election, has now widened its scope to include Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The focus of their interest in Kushner - one of Trump's most trusted senior White House advisors - seems to be a series of meetings Jared hosted in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a high-ranking Russian banker based in Moscow. What will need to be determined during the investigation is what the actual nature of those meetings was, and the extent to which information was potentially shared between Kushner and the Russians.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was present at the meetings, and later that month Flynn again contacted the Russian ambassador to deliberate over U.S. sanctions against Russia. This was the conversation that cost Flynn his job after he failed to disclose the meeting to Vice President Mike Pence when he was prompted to do so.
The Russian banker that was present at the December meetings with Kushner is Sergey Gorkov, who currently serves as the head of Vnesheconombank. The bank has been placed under U.S. sanctions in response to possible financing during Putin's invasion of Crimea.
Anonymous informants with intimate knowledge of the Russian probe into the Trump administration told the Post that law enforcement officials were also looking into possible financial crimes.
According to a report by The New York Times, Jared Kushner failed to disclose the December meetings with the Russian ambassador and the banker on his White House security clearance form. However, Kushner's lawyer has put it down to an error made by Kushner.
So far President Donald Trump has been quick to react to accusations of Russian ties to his staff, often scapegoating members of his team, and even firing the accused party if needs be. However, now that Jared Kushner has been identified as a person of interest in the investigation, Trump may find it harder to brush it off.
Kushner is a member of Trump's close family by virtue of being married to his daughter, Ivanka. According to a report in The Washington Post, this development could potentially place Trump in an awkward position. Shruti Shah, who is an expert in political corruption, spoke to the Huffington Post about the kinds of opportunities that arise when a politician's family members are employed in government positions.
"You've seen it in countries all over the world where they've appointed family members, whether it's their son, daughter, in-laws — it provides for tremendous opportunities for corruption. People who want to curry favor find their way to provide favors to family members as a way to get closer to the person in power."
But who is the highly influential man that enjoys the privilege of having the president's ear at all times?
In a recent report by Politico Magazine, a few of Jared Kushner's former colleagues and acquaintances spoke out about the kind of person they know Kushner to be.
In the words of Strauss Zelnick, a friend of Kushner's, Trump's son-in-law is "tough. In an exceedingly polite way, he is as tough as anyone is in New York City real estate."
In 2005, father of Jared, Charles Kushner, was found guilty of corrupt activities, including tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign donations to the Democratic Party. Charles was sent to prison.
Brian Thomas Gallagher, who served for a time as a deputy editor at the Kushner family publican, the New York Observer, believes that Jared is someone who "saw all this sh*t with his father go down, and it turned him into a person who was determined to operate in much the same way but just be quieter about it."
"The idea that he thought the thing to do was to buy himself a position in the New York cultural elite is probably true in its way, but I don't think he ever saw that way. He saw how poorly his dad was treated in the papers, and the Observer was his tool or a house organ for his real estate company."
As the owner of the Observer Media Group, Jared Kushner began to play a less prominent role in the management of the group and shifted focus onto the Trump political campaign instead. As the husband of Ivanka, Jared was able to secure himself the influential position he now enjoys in Trump's White House.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Observer issued an official endorsement of Donald Trump for president. Some of the publication's employees were not pleased with the endorsement and subsequently resigned. This week, Ken Kurson who is a friend of Kushner and also held the position of editor-in-chief at the Observer Media Group, announced his resignation in order to accept a CEO position at Teneo Holdings.
With regards to the latest developments in the Trump-Russia investigation, the Post made it clear that Kushner has not yet been confirmed as a particular "target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing."
In other words, Jared Kushner is not the primary focus of the investigation. Nevertheless, the F.B.I. has the authority to pursue charges against any suspects who are not central to the investigation.
The FBI declined to comment.
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