The FBI is looking at Jared Kushner as a person of interest and potential witness in the Russia investigation for a slew of reasons, not the least of which is that the timing of his early 2016 meetings with Russian officials coincide with the launch of Russia’s multi-pronged approach to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, according to Friday’s Washington Post.
“Right around the time Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser held a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States last spring, the CIA director started to notice something weird,” wrote the Post‘s Amber Phillips. “The Russians were talking about actively, aggressively trying to influence the U.S. presidential election against Hillary Clinton.”
John Brennan was CIA director at the time. He testified before Congress earlier this week about his observations during the campaign and said, “Having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals, and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to try to act on their behalf, either wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons.”
The use of unwitting agents — also known as “useful idiots” — is a long-established tactic of Russian intelligence operations. The Kremlin pumped out anti-Clinton propaganda during the 2016 election aimed at voters on the right wing and far left, who then disseminated the stories across the internet.
Phillips wrote, “When the Russians want to spy or meddle in other nations’ affairs, their go-to move is to find people from that nation to cuddle up with — or to blackmail, if it gets to that. (‘Suborn’ sits right in the middle of those two. It means to bribe or secretly convince someone to do something.)”
As intel began to coalesce around the idea of a Russian push to sabotage Clinton’s bid for president, CIA Director Brennan started watching for attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with U.S. campaign personnel.
“Sure enough,” Brennan told Phillips, Russians began to meet with members of the Trump campaign.
A cadre of Trump campaign officials — Kushner, disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, current Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, longtime Trump confidant and Republican “dirty tricks” specialist Roger Stone — met with Russian operatives and then took pains to hide these meetings from the federal government and the news media.
This does not automatically make this an open and shut case of collusion, however. Russian intelligence officials do not always identify themselves as such. Kushner — who met with Russian ambassador to the U.S. and purported spymaster Sergey Kislyak as well as a Russian banker with strong ties to the Kremlin and FSB — may have not have known that he was meeting with men with deep ties to Russian spy agencies.
Brennan made it clear to the Post that the intelligence he was seeing was somewhat ambiguous, but it was alarming enough for him to refer everything he’d discovered to the FBI.
“The FBI, we know now, took Brennan’s concerns seriously,” wrote Phillips. “The agency is waist-deep in a months-long, mostly covert investigation of Russia meddling and whether the Trump campaign helped. And its investigation has led it to the highest ranks of the White House.”
Now Kushner has been named as an individual who investigators would like to speak with. It’s early yet to call him a target or a suspect and it remains to be seen how extensively he will cooperate with the investigation.