Russia Investigation Reaches Trump’s Inner Circle

  1. Today it was revealed that the Congressional investigation into Russian efforts to influence the election expanded to include another one of Donald Trump’s closest confidants – his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

ABC News: “One of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has now become a focus of the expanding congressional investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 campaign. Cohen confirmed to ABC News that House and Senate investigators have asked him ‘to provide information and testimony’ about any contacts he had with people connected to the Russian government, but he said he has turned down the invitation.”

  1. Jared Kushner attempted to establish a secret communications backchannel with Russia using Russian facilities in an apparent attempt to evade monitoring by the U.S. government.

Washington Post: “Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.”

  1. Federal and congressional investigators are examining what Jared Kushner discussed in meetings with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, whose bank is “deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States.”

New York Times: “Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was looking for a direct line to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — a search that in mid-December found him in a room with a Russian banker whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States.  Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly Mr. Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition, according to current and former officials familiar with the investigations.”

  1. Kushner failed to disclose these meetings and at least three other contacts with Russia’s ambassador on his security clearance application and hadn’t corrected the problem by early April.

Reuters: U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters. Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November last year, two of the sources said. By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources – one current and one former law enforcement official.”


New York Times: “Jamie Gorelick, Mr. Kushner's lawyer, said that the questionnaire was submitted prematurely on Jan. 18, and that the next day, Mr. Kushner's office told the F.B.I. that he would provide supplemental information.  Mr. Kushner's aides said he was compiling that material and would share it when the F.B.I. interviewed him. For now, they said, he has an interim security clearance.  In a statement, Ms. Gorelick said that after learning of the error, Mr. Kushner told the F.B.I.: ‘During the presidential campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the president-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity. … I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts.’ No names were disclosed in that correspondence.”

  1. Despite the White House’s claims, national security experts agree that Kushner’s use of secret backchannels is anything but normal.

Republican Senator John McCain: “And the Arizona Republican said he was concerned about reports of back channels between Jared Kushner and Russian entities before the inauguration of President Donald Trump. ‘I know some administration officials are saying this is standard procedure. I don't think it's standard procedure prior to the inauguration of the president of the United States by someone who is not in an appointed position,’ McCain said.”

Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden: “This is off the map. I know of no other experience like this in our history, and certainly not within my life experience.”

Former CIA Assistant Director Mark Lowenthal: “If you’re going to create a back channel that relies solely on the Russian communications and apparatus, that’s a really serious issue,’ said Mark Lowenthal, a former assistant director at the CIA. ‘That’s extremely dangerous.’”

Former Bush State Department Counselor Eliot A. Cohen: “Beyond security concerns, a proposed back channel would have been a breach of democratic protocol, said Eliot A. Cohen, a former counselor to President George W. Bush’s State Department.”

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: “I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on, and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community, very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians.”

Former senior State Department official Jon Finer: “Jon Finer, a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, said Kushner’s reported back-channel effort illustrates ‘that the Trump team had less trust in the American government than in a foreign adversary that undermined our election. ‘And the million-dollar question then becomes: What was so urgent and so sensitive that the president needed it to be handled this way? Every explanation offered so far has been wholly unsatisfying,’ Finer said.”

Retired FBI agent Scott Olson: “This is extremely dangerous because it results in verbal (and therefore undocumented and unwitnessed) agreements, which are binding on governments. Free governments do not work this way. They can’t. If they do, they are no longer free.”

Former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey: “’Why in God’s name would they want to conceal plans on Syria strategy from the US military?’  ‘Even accepting their Syria spin, what Kushner tried to do was blind the US government on incredibly important national security matters,’ Hennessey added. ‘That’s not how it works. That’s not the behavior of someone who recognizes America is still, at its core, a common endeavor.’”

Former CIA counterterrorism official Glenn Carle: “’If you are in a position of public trust, and you talk to, meet, or collude with a foreign power’ while trying to subvert normal state channels, ‘you are, in the eyes of the FBI and CIA, a traitor,’ said Glenn Carle, a former top counterterrorism official at the CIA for more than two decades.”