Jared Kushner faced secret questioning from Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier in November, according to reports this week — a sign that the probe into possible collusion between the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia was pressing closer to Trump himself. Kushner is Trump’s own son-in-law and senior White House adviser.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Russia investigation as a “hoax,” despite admitting that he fired FBI Director James Comey in May because of the Russia investigation, which was then led by Comey, and that dismissing the FBI director relieved “great pressure” due to the investigation.
But as the Russia probe appears to be closing in, Trump is reportedly taking further steps to slow the investigation. According to a report Thursday in the New York Times, Trump now plans to replace current Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, who has held the job only since January, with Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton — who has consistently supported Trump’s denials of collusion with Russia.
In his previously secret interrogation of Kushner earlier in November, Mueller is believed to have quizzed the 36-year-old about a clandestine meeting in Trump Tower last December involving Kushner, Michael Flynn who later became Trump’s national security adviser — before he was forced out after less than a month due to his Russia contacts — and then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
But Cotton has dismissed that unexplained meeting — in which Kislyak was reportedly ushered in a “back door” at New York’s Trump Tower — as “very normal activity during any kind of transition.” In fact, Cotton has said that the frequent contact between Trump campaign officials and Russians “does not to me raise any concern whatsoever.”
Cotton has also suggested that the “Steele Dossier,” the private intelligence document detailing deep ties between Trump and Russia, was actually funded by “Russian intelligence.”
Trump’s seeming move to install one of his most reliable defenders against the Russia investigation as head of the CIA comes the week after reports that Flynn may have agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe — cooperation that would likely require Flynn to give information about Kushner’s involvement with Russia and his role at the once-secret Trump Tower meeting.
If Flynn is indeed cooperating with Mueller, the secret questioning of Kushner in November was likely intended to establish whether Kushner would tell the truth about the Trump Tower meeting, or other Russia contacts of which Flynn would have knowledge, according to one expert who spoke to Newsweek magazine.
“Flynn probably gave them very specific information about Kushner’s activities. If you get information about Kushner that is incriminating the first thing you do is call his lawyer and say ‘I want to speak with your client,'” said Nick Akerman, a prosecutor who was a veteran of the Watergate investigation that led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Kushner has been caught concealing information about his Russia contacts, and other foreign contacts, before. He has repeatedly been forced to revise his application for a security clearance allowing him to act as a White House adviser to Trump — initially listing no foreign contacts at all, but in a series of updates now listing more than 100 from upwards of 20 different countries including Russia.
Also earlier in November, two top senators leading the Senate Judiciary Committee Russia probe accused Kushner of concealing email correspondence with a mysterious Russian businessman, Sergei Millian, who claims close ties with Trump himself and has been described as a friend by former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos has already accepted a plea deal with Mueller and is cooperating with the Russia investigation. It was Papadopoulos who repeatedly attempted to set up meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russians, including a proposed meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.