Friday, March 8, 2019

Inside the Kushner Clearance Probe


It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Jared Kushner would forget. On Dec. 13, 2016, Donald Trump’s son-in-law met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a multibillion-dollar state-run Russian development bank, who was in the U.S., the bank later said, as part of a new investment strategy. To memorialize the event, Gorkov even gave Kushner a piece of art and a bag of dirt from the village where Kushner’s grandparents had grown up. But just one month later, Kushner failed to report the meeting when he applied for permission to view the U.S. government’s most closely held secrets.
The episode is emerging as a key moment in what Democrats allege was a much larger Russian effort to exert influence over Trump’s inner circle as the President-elect’s team prepared to take office in late 2016. As part of a wide-ranging probe into security clearances, House Oversight chair Elijah Cummings is expected to issue the Democrats’ first subpoena of the Trump White House for information about the meeting and other contacts, committee member Gerald Connolly tells TIME. Cummings already has demanded all the documents Kushner provided in his security-clearance application as well as those he gave the White House after the request was rejected. In response, Trump’s White House lawyer said Congress was overstepping its authority by casting such a wide net, and Trump called the security-clearance investigation “presidential harassment.”
But the Gorkov meeting and Kushner’s failure to report it helped accelerate the FBI’s investigations of Russia’s 2016 influence operations, including the inquiry that special counsel Robert Mueller took over five months later, two sources familiar with the probes tell TIME. The Gorkov meeting, and others held by Trump transition figures with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, these sources say, helped make what had been a relatively slow-moving counterintelligence investigation a top priority.
At issue, these and four other intelligence and law-enforcement officials say, is whether Russia used the business interests of Trump, Kushner and others in an attempt to influence U.S. foreign- and national-security policy, like trying to ease sanctions, soften U.S. opposition to Moscow’s expansionist aims and limit American military aid to Ukraine. “It’s at the heart of the question about whether Russia has any financial leverage over any members of the Administration,” one of the sources tells TIME. “If Jared was an adviser to the incoming President of the United States and trying to profit from that by doing private business with the Russians or anybody else, then he’d have a problem, and his clearance might be the least of it.”

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