Friday, May 26, 2017

Update: Jared Kushner's "Russia problem"

Crowded out by more pressing news was an article on Vox news site more than a week ago by Dara Lind that analyzed Jared Kushner's Russia problem.

The youthful scion of a large real estate empire in New Jersey, who married the daughter of the New York real estate phenomenon Donald Trump, Jared Kushner's youthful, quiet good looks seems to go along with the image created by his observant, Orthodox Jewish practice:   a nice, devoted, young man.

We're learning that there's a lot more to Jared than that image.   One factor is his habit of shunning the spotlight.   I am a pretty close observer of political news, and I have never heard Jared speak.   I don't only mean "give a speech."   I have never heard the sound of his voice.   He apparently does not engage at all with TV reporters.    So let's see what we can learn from Dara Lind's article.

Jared and Ivanka moved to Washington, along with their children, into a house in a nearby neighborhood to where the Obamas now live.   So they're putting down roots.   And both of them now have official positions in the Trump administration, albeit unpaid advisers.   At first, I thought this was probably a good idea, based on my assumption that, if anyone could put some limits on Donald Trump, it would be these two, especially Ivanka.

But, as Lind points out:   "What if . . . Jared is not a panacea for the chaotic White House, but one of its biggest problems? . . .  Kushner hasn't been the 'adult in the room' urging caution and scrupulousness.   To the contrary, he's been urging aggression and retaliation."

Contrary to expectations that he would have warned Trump not to fire FBI Director Comey, the New York Times has reported that he was supportive of, perhaps even encouraged, that decision.   But, now that Robert Mueller has been appointed as special counselor to take over the FBI investigation, Jared is said to be the one urging counter-attack, with others taking the role of the calming influence.

The fact that one of Mueller's law firm colleagues has represented Jared in other cases seems to be a major concern of Jared's, who pushed for evoking the ethics rule that would prohibit a special counsel whose law firm has represented a person being investigated.   The Justice Department has dispensed with that by granting a waiver to Mueller, given that he had no participation in Jared's case that was handled by other lawyers at his firm.

So what is Kushner so worried about?   Lind points out that both Jared and Ivanka have been especially close to Michael Flynn;   they were his champions in getting the appointment as National Security Adviser, saying that the family "owed" it to him to reward his loyalty during the campaign.   That, in itself, is a little suspicious.   National Security Adviser is perhaps the most sensitive post in a modern presidency.   It is not a gold watch to be handed out as a reward for faithful service.

Jared was involved, along with Flynn, in at least one meeting with the Russian ambassador, as well as subsequent meetings with Russian officials on his own, including the head of a Russian bank that is personally controlled by Putin, who chose as the man to head it a former Russian spy.   That's who Jared had the meeting with.

Kushner did not disclose any of those meetings when he applied for -- and got -- security clearance.   That lack of disclosure put him on the radar of the Senate Intelligence Committee.   Steve Bannon reportedly is deeply concerned about this, calling it "a disaster waiting to happen."   Lind's reporting suggests that this might be one of the causes of the notorious conflict between Kushner and Bannon that was unsettling the inner circle of the Trump administration.

Dara Lind concludes with this:
"The idea that Kushner was some sort of moderating influence on Donald Trump was always more than a little overblown -- there was never much evidence that Trump was being moderated. . . .  If Kushner has, or is, a Russia problem, that means that the current investigations go to the beating heart of the Trump White House.   That could set up a very, very nasty fight indeed."
Here's my own suspicion:   With at least half a dozen people close to Trump clearly linked to the Russians in an unsavory way -- how can we ignore the very likely possibility that Trump himself is also directly under the influence of Russia?

Another leak has just revealed a conversation among Russian officials last summer about how to influence a president Trump through his advisers, and they seemed most interested in Flynn and Manafort at that time.   This doesn't prove that they followed through on it;  but it does show that they were thinking about it.

We also know now, from the testimony of former CIA Director John Brennan, the pattern in which Russians cultivate "assets" who then become conduits for them, sometimes wittingly through coercion, and sometimes unwittingly.   According to some guest on MSNBC Wednesday night, whose name escapes me, "it always comes down to need or greed" on the part of the prospective asset.   In Trump's case, it could have been both.   He needed money;   he has always been greedy for MORE of anything material.    They could easily have satisfied his need by arranging for him to get money from their nefarious sources.

Why are we ignoring the distinct possibility that Donald Trump may be co-opted by the Russians?   Here's how it could be.   After his bankruptcies and a downturn in the real estate market, Donald Trump was in dire need of money.   But he had ruined his credit standing in New York by not paying his loans.   He turned instead to borrow huge amounts from Deutschebank, which is currently having to pay large fines for involvement in money-laundering.   Real estate development is one of the two most used places to clean up money through "investing" and reselling.   Trump could have participated with them in this -- and then he could be being blackmailed at this very moment.

There is also the Russian, state-controlled bank, whose president Jared Kushner had an unreported meeting with in New York.   This is the same president that was hand-picked to run the bank by Putin, who uses this bank essentially as his slush fund for financing things like the Ukraine operation and the take-over of Crimea.   Jared could have had his own business reasons for the meeting, or he could have been on a mission from Trump.

There are not very many dots to have to connect here to see how Donald Trump himself could be under pressure directly from Putin.   I am confident that Mueller will not ignore this.   He may already be ten steps ahead of my analysis and speculation.


PS:   Thursday afternoon, it was revealed that Jared Kushner is now "under FBI scrutiny."  The source also said that they are interested in some information he may have, not that he is himself the subject of investigation.   Nevertheless, this brings the scrutiny not only right into the very center of the White House inner circle, it also brings it into the immediacy of the Trump family itself.

Kushner has previously said that he would voluntarily talk with any of the investigative bodies and tell them anything they want to k now.  It's also noteworthy that, when an investigation begins looking into your life about one thing, they may be led to something else that you are vulnerable on -- like business financial dealings were a sanctioned bank, for example.   The Russian bank whose CEO Jared met with is under US sanctions.

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