The Contours Of Collusion Come Clearer
Another three bombshells landed last night and all three of them were clearly directed at slumlord Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, top adviser, and go-to guy on just about everything. And with these new revelations, the contours of collusion, both before and after the election, become that much clearer and the investigation creeps as close as you can get to President Trump without reaching him directly. Yet.
Earlier in the day, reports surfaced that Trump was thinking not only about a staff shake-up but also about creating a “war room” to fight the burgeoning Russia scandal. The interesting thing about the war room was that it was to be headed by Bannon, Priebus, and Kushner. That seemed like a problem because Priebus has been implicated in the cover-up and Kushner has lied about his own contacts with the Russians. In fact, (and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this), the only apparently “clean” one of the three, so far, (and more on that later), is Bannon.
But Kushner’s involvement in the war room and even his ability to continue to work in the White House became even more dubious when the first bombshell from the Washington Post landed last night. That story says that, in a secret early December meeting between Russian Ambassador Kislyak, Flynn, and Kushner, Kushner proposed the idea of creating a secret back channel to Moscow, presumably Putin, and to do so by using Russia’s secure communications systems either at the Russian Embassy or Consulate. Also discussed was using a third party in a foreign country as a conduit.
US intelligence picked up these details of the meeting when Kislyak reported his shock at Kushner’s suggestion about using secure Russian communications when he reported back to Moscow. For Russian security services, having an American come into and use their secure facilities was problematic, to say the least.
In addition, we do know that a third party meeting was eventually set up between the Trump campaign and the Russians in early January, about ten days before Trump officially became President. The Trump transition had the crown prince of Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also fly in and meet secretly with them in early December. It had already been agreed that Flynn or Kushner would be too high profile for such a foreign meeting. Instead, it appears that Erik Prince, brother of now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met with a representative of Putin in the Seychelles, a meeting set up by the UAE.
The White House, for what its worth, has denied that the discussions in the secret meeting with the crown prince touched on any planning for the meeting in the Seychelles. They claim that the UAE was trying to influence Russian to withdraw its support for Iran, especially its actions in Syria, in return for an easing of US sanctions. Similarly, the New York Times reported last night that the desire to create a secret back channel to the Russians using secure Russian communications was so that Flynn could get a detailed briefing on Syria from Russian intelligence.
Neither of these explanations make any sense. Very simply, all Kushner and Flynn had to do was wait until inauguration and then they were free to talk to the Russians about anything and everything that they envisioned doing. And Flynn would be far more likely to get at least some honest details on Russian Syrian strategy if he could also offer some details on current US deployments and strategies in that country, something he would be totally privy to once Trump was inaugurated. In addition, if their stated reason was true, why did both Flynn and Kushner try to hide the existence of the meeting and the lie about its contents. And why did the White House deny any links to the Seychelles meeting.
The third bomb that dropped was also a direct hit on Kushner. This was a story from Reuters that claimed that Kushner had at least three other unreported contacts with the Russians, both during and after the campaign. Two of those contacts occurred between April and November of last year. These contacts by Kushner are part of the 18 undisclosed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians that Reuters previously reported on. And as one of the Reuters reporters who wrote the story ominously said on Maddow last night, “these are the undisclosed contacts that we know about”, certainly implying their may be others out there.
But here’s the real kicker in the Reuters piece: “FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official”. In that vein it is worth noting that Kushner also met with the Putin-appointed head of the Russian-owned bank, Vnesheconombank, in early December. That bank is currently under US sanctions. Interesting.
As David Frum points out, Bloomberg has reported that early 2017 was going to be a crucial time for Kushner Companies. The fees at its flagship, but money-losing, property at 666 Fifth Avenue were set to start increasing rapidly in 2017. Those fees continue to escalate until the loans are paid off. In addition, in December of 2017, the interest rate on the outstanding loans will also more than double. This accounts for the Kushners’ ethically challenged and ultimately failed attempt to get the Chinese-backed Anbang Insurance to invest in the building and why the Kushner Companies are traveling around China trying to basically sell access to Trump in order to also round up investors for the building. In a declining, NYC real estate market, the Kushner Companies existence could very well be threatened.
The final bombshell, but actually the second one of the evening, and this one less directed at Jared Kushner directly and more at the Trump campaign in general, was the report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is requesting the Trump campaign produce all documents, emails, and phone record that are Russia-related going back to June 2015. As the Trump campaign has repeatedly said they had no interaction with the Russians, this shouldn’t be hard to do. On the other hand, we know that claim is false and it will be interesting to see the volume of material that this request brings to the surface. But this is certainly a clear indication that the Trump campaign is now coming under serious scrutiny.
Jared Kushner is now in serious legal trouble. He has lied about his repeated contacts with the Russians on his security clearance. That is punishable by up to five years in prison. The frequency and frankly bizarre nature of his meetings makes it impossible to treat this as an oversight. No one is going to forget a meeting where you ask the Russian ambassador to help you use secure Russian communications so you can talk directly to Putin. And, as Malcom Nance and others have pointed out, this kind of request is quite possibly a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. It certainly requires that Kushner’s security clearance be pulled immediately. It is doubtful, however, that Trump will cut loose a member of the family and his most trusted adviser. That alone may create a confrontation with either the law or, perhaps finally, the Congress.
The obvious elephant in the room right now, (and there have been plenty of them in this investigation), is what were all those 18 unreported contacts that we currently know of are all about. Kate Brannen over at Newsweek has an interesting theory. I have already written about how the Mercers and Cambridge Analytica may have illegally influenced the Brexit vote. Well, all that same detail of data was available to Kushner and Bannon in the Trump campaign. Kushner and Cambridge Analytica have both bragged about their microtargeting capabilities in the 2016 election. And Steve Bannon was the Mercer-installed head of Cambridge Analytica.
The Newsweek article quotes BBC reporter Paul Wood who puts it all together:
“‘This is a three-headed operation,’ said one former official, setting out the case, based on the intelligence: First, hackers steal damaging emails from senior Democrats. Secondly, the stories based on this hacked information appear on Twitter and Facebook, posted by thousands of automated ‘bots’, then on Russia’s English-language outlets, RT and Sputnik, then right-wing US ‘news’ sites such as Infowars and Breitbart, then Fox and the mainstream media. Thirdly, Russia downloads the online voter rolls. The voter rolls are said to fit into this because of ‘microtargeting’. Using email, Facebook and Twitter, political advertising can be tailored very precisely: individual messaging for individual voters.’You are stealing the stuff and pushing it back into the US body politic,’ said the former official, ‘you know where to target that stuff when you’re pushing it back.’ This would take co-operation with the Trump campaign, it is claimed.”
And Kushner and Bannon would have been at the heart of the microtargeting operation. And we also now know that the Russians spent far more heavily than we initially imagined on ads and planted stories using microtargeted information to disengage and suppress key Democratic voters. As Senate Intelligence Committee member Mark Warner asks, “I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware really raises some questions. I think that’s a worthwhile area of inquiry. How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?” The request for Trump campaign documents may just be the first step to getting that answer.
To speculate myself, might the success of Kushner’s enabling of Russian microtargeting in order to get Trump actually elected make Trump believe that Kushner could do just about anything. It certainly is one possible explanation for Trump’s giving unparalleled power to Kushner and believing the Jared alone can bring peace in the Middle East.
As I’ve said before, Flynn, Manafort, and Trump were all quite comfortable taking Russian money and they all knew at some level what the Russians wanted out of the Trump campaign. They didn’t need any direct instructions, but that also doesn’t mean they didn’t get them. And that level of familiarity would certainly make Kushner comfortable with colluding with the Russians to influence the election. Remember, the Trump campaign was largely unfunded and the plan was to rely on the RNC for most of the campaign groundwork. In reality, it appears that the bulk of the spending for the Trump campaign actually came from the Russians. That then leads us down a whole different path of inquiry into violations of federal election law and perhaps just might make the Supreme Court rethink its Citizens United decision. But that’s a discussion for another day.
The three stories from yesterday create a final link between the Russian hacking of the election, the collusion of the Trump campaign, and the financial crimes of selling access and even policies for personal gain. The outlines are now clear. We are just waiting for more devastating details.