Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has become a central figure in the investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia both because he ran the campaign’s digital operations and because his family’s crumbling real-estate empire may leave him compromised.
Kushner’s role as head of the Trump campaign’s digital operations placed him at the center of multiple potential loci for collusion between the campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election. Kushner was, for example, integral in hiring the data firm Cambridge Analytica to handle the campaign’s online strategy in June 2016; the company is now under investigation for whether its tactics may have overlapped with those employed by Russia’s influence campaign, and for reaching out to Julian Assange in late July about finding emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email servers. According to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kushner also received and forwarded emails about Wikileaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” in September 2016, which he failed to initially disclose when testifying before the committee. Finally, Kushner was one of three representatives of the Trump campaign to attend the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.
Meanwhile, Kushner’s family real-estate business—much of which he still owns while serving in the White House—has also come under scrutiny for the conflicts of interest it creates. Kushner Companies is reportedly desperate for financing to stay afloat after a series of ill-advised investments, including the debt-fueled purchase of a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Especially notable is the $285 million loan the company received from Deutsche Bank, an institution with ties to Russian money laundering, in October 2016, less than a month before the election. Federal prosecutors in New York have reportedly requested records related to the loan, which the company describes as a “routine” transaction.
The two threads arguably came together in December 2016, when, after meeting the previous day with Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov, the CEO of the sanctioned Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank. After the meeting became public, Kushner and Gorkov’s accounts differed: The White House said that they discussed policy and that “Kushner was acting in his capacity as a transition official,” and Kushner later said he took the meeting for insight into Putin’s views of the new administration; Gorkov and VEB, however, said the meeting was a business meeting, with Kushner acting on behalf of his family’s real-estate company.
Amid questions regarding Kushner’s conflicts of interest and lack of experience and allegations of nepotism, Trump announced on January 9, 2017, that Kushner would be serving in the White House as an unpaid senior adviser. In his role as senior adviser, Kushner reportedly was a major proponent of Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, reasoning that the move would meet little pushback because both Republicans and Democrats were unhappy with Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Kushner testified before congressional investigators on July 24, giving prepared remarks in which he downplayed the significance of his multiple interactions with Russian officials during the campaign and transition and denied allegations of collusion.
During his time at the White House, Kushner’s numerous overseas contacts and business entanglements have raised questions about whether he might be susceptible to the influence of a foreign government. Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s finance minister in early 2017, although he reportedly said “he turned down possible funding to avoid questions of a conflict of interest for his son.” Kushner’s relationship with Qatari officials raised even more questions after these officials reportedly declined to share information about “alleged influence by the United Arab Emirates on Trump associates, including Kushner, “to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In February 2018, it was reported that officials from at least four countries “privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner […] by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements [and] financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience. These countries included the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico. In late February 2018, Kushner was stripped of his top secret level security clearance and downgraded to the secret level. Later that year, in May, Kushner was granted a permanent top secret clearance.