Jared Kushner cultivated ties during the 2016 campaign with a “pro-Kremlin” foreign policy veteran who warned him against establishing “hidden Russian contacts” — but he ultimately ignored that advice.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report accounts the relationship between Kushner, who wanted to bolster his father-in-law Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials, and Dmitri Simes, a Russian émigré who once served as an informal foreign policy adviser to President Richard Nixon, reported Politico.
Kushner attended a March 2016 lunch honoring Henry Kissinger, where he met Simes, the longtime president and CEO of Washington think tank the Center for the National Interest.
The two began communicating, and even met later that month at Kushner’s office, and offered advice to the Trump campaign regarding Russia.
“Jared was genuinely eager to cultivate relationships with foreign policy people,” said a Trump campaign adviser who has worked with Simes. “He was having a hard time early on when foreign establishment was horrified by what Trump was doing, and he recognized in Dmitri someone who had serious foreign policy credentials and was sympathetic to the candidate.”
Mueller found no evidence that Kushner sought out Simes due to his Kremlin ties, but the Russian-American told Mueller that he tried to influence the campaign’s attitude toward his homeland.
In April 2016, CNI hosted Trump’s first real foreign policy address, which was attended by Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Mueller discovered that Simes offered Kushner disparaging information about former President Bill Clinton.
Simes also helped Trump draft the CNI speech calling for an “easing of tensions” with Russia, and continued advising him on Russia months later, although his help was kept quiet by the campaign.
Mueller also found that Simes sent a June 2016 memo offering policy recommendations to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who led Trump’s foreign policy team, and sent a similar memo to Kushner in August of that year.
That month, as Hillary Clinton was hammering Trump on his friendly views on Vladimir Putin, Simes told Kushner that he’d heard rumors from a former CIA official that Russian had intercepted Bill Clinton’s sexually explicit phone calls with Monica Lewinsky and was blackmailing him, according to two sources who spoke with Politico.
Kushner told Mueller that he didn’t learn anything from Simes that could be “operationalized” against Clinton, and their relationship seems to have cooled by the election.
Sources said Simes was disappointed that Paul Saunders, a former CNI executive director and current board member, and former U.S. ambassador Richard Burt, were not hired for the administration jobs for which he’d recommended them.
Simes was also privately frustrated by Trump and the campaign, and he told Mueller he warned Kushner against establishing “hidden Russian contacts” that could come back to haunt the Republican frontrunner.
Kushner initially heeded his advice, advising the campaign to “pass” on a proposed meeting in May 2016 with with an officer at a Russian state-owned bank, who appears to have been Alexander Torshin — a close associate with Russian spy Mariia Butina.
But just one month later, Kushner joined campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. for an infamous meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney offering damaging information against Hillary Clinton.
Allies insist Simes is a political realist who works only for himself, but some former government officials disagree.
“He is completely pro-Kremlin and always has been,” said Michael Carpenter, a former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who also focused on Russia and Ukraine in Obama’s Defense Department.