A Washington Post graphic published recently mapped the ties and alleged ties to Russia of President Trump and his associates.
The name of Jared Kushner, once the wunderkind of Team Trump, loomed shockingly large within the elaborate web crisscrossing the illustration. The 36-year-old son-in-law and senior adviser to the president has at least three points of connection now under investigation.
Recent discoveries have put Kushner’s ties with the Kremlin in the spotlight just as the probe heats up to the point where it could pose a bigger threat Trump’s troubled young presidency. More worrying for Kushner, of the triumvirate surrounding the Trump — top strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and Kushne — the president’s son-in-law stands out as the only one who may have been involved in business and perhaps diplomatic ties with the Russians.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance and former leader of the National Jewish Democratic Council, mocked Kushner for his ties to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, comparing his actions to “drinking (tea) from a samovar with a former commissar.”
“He is proceeding, like much of the Trump administration, with doing dangerous things to this country, even assuming the best of intentions,” Moline said.
Kushner is now facing a congressional investigation into his meeting with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition and a recently disclosed meeting he held with meeting he held with a Russian banker close to Putin whose bank is under U.S.-imposed sanctions. These meetings are now at the center of a larger investigation into Russia’s attempt to meddle with the U.S. election and into the question whether there was any collusion on behalf of the Trump campaign with these Russian efforts.
Kushner’s contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition could end up as either no more than an ordinary meeting between an incoming administration and foreign officials, or, depending on the content of these conversation, prove that Trump had a quid-pro-quo relationship with the Kremlin.
It remains an open question whether revelations about Kushner could presage a turn of fortunes for the real estate scion and husband of Ivanka Trump.
“Did his image take a hit? Yes. Will it have an impact? We don’t know,” said veteran Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “It’s a long way from making a stupid error and having an image that’s somewhat tattered to being in trouble.”
Along with his telegenic wife, Kushner has mostly been portrayed as a stabilizing force within the tumultuous world of the Trump White House and the presidential campaign that preceded it.
The couple has been credited with occasionally reining in Donald Trump’s impulsive and self-destructive behavior on social media. And he is viewed as a comparative political moderate in a White House dominated by Bannon, a right-wing firebrand.
Kushner’s observant Jewish faith and his wife’s conversion to Modern Orthodoxy have mostly spawned positive stories about their faith — and have given Donald Trump a cudgel to push back against accusations of anti-Semitism or ties to far right figures.
The news of Kushner’s previously unreported Russian connections come as his portfolio grows thicker by the day. At the order of his father-in-law, President Trump, Kushner is now in charge of promoting Middle East peace, negotiating with Mexico, managing diplomacy with China, dealing with America’s opioid addiction problem, reforming veteran care, rethinking criminal justice, and re-inventing government. His importance in Trump’s inner-circle as the go-to person for any crisis or initiative is so great, that Kushner’s ski vacation with wife Ivanka Trump and their three children was blamed, in part, for Trump’s failure to pass legislation repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Kushner’s new role as the administration’s go-to person on every imaginable issue, hopping between a secret visit to Iraq to late night phone call with senators, has also made the young adviser a target for criticism from insiders who have decried his “privilaged status” in his father-in-law’s White House.
Critics argue that his lack of experience and broad areas of responsibility, will inevitably lead to problems.
“If you got into an airplane and the pilot or co-pilot had his level of experience, you’d get off. If your surgeon had his level of hands-on experience, you’d take your chances with the infected appendix,” Moline said.
The White House worked hard to defend Kushner, now a lightening rod for political reporters trying to pin down the exact responsibilities of the presidential son-in-law.
“There are people that would look at this situation and say that the White House isn’t meant to be run as a family business,” CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan pressed White House press secretary Sean Spicer during an April 3 briefing.
Spicer forcible defended Kushner’s role.
“There’s a lot of relationships that Jared has made over time with different leaders,” Spicer tried to explain, saying that Kushner’s direct line to the President is a “win-win situation” for the government.
A Jewish Republican donor speaking to the Forward on condition of anonymity, in order to protect his private conversations with White House officials, provided a similar line of defense for Kushner.
“He’s talented, he’s smart and he has the trust of the president,” the donor said. “Where’s the problem?”
Kushner has agreed to voluntarily testify before the Senate’s Russia probe committee. The committee is interested in hearing about Kushner’s meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December at the Trump Tower transition headquarters. Later that month, Kushner had another meeting, this time with Sergey Gorkov, who heads Russian development bank Vnesheconombank. The state-run bank was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The White House confirmed that Kushner met with Gorkov, but stated that nothing of consequence was discussed in the meeting. Representatives of the bank, known as VEB, called the meeting with Kushner “routine.
Regardless of their substance, the existence of the meetings suggests Kushner had played a much larger role than previously believed in shaping Trump’s presidency after the elections. He took on the mission of forging channels of communication with foreign governments and worked hand in hand with now-disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This role had made Kushner a key contact to the Russians and therefore could turn him into the focus of the investigation, especially if Flynn is granted immunity by Congress and reveals further information about these meetings.
According to media reports, some senators intend to question Kushner about the possibility that he discussed with Gorkov the idea of VEB bank investing in the Kushner family real estate business if the Trump administration agreed to lift sanctions from Russia.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.