Democrats turn focus on Jared Kushner as they scent blood amid drip, drip, drip of Russia scandal




 

Last week, Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump were hobnobbing with technology titans and billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, at an annual conference for the global elite put on by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in Sun Valley, Idaho.

For America's foremost power couple it was a welcome retreat from Washington, where a full-scale Democratic assault on the pair has reached fever pitch.

Mr Kushner, in particular, has become the focus of a concerted, multi-pronged attempt to claim a senior White House scalp.

Mr Kushner is the only serving member of the Trump administration who was present at a meeting between Donald Trump Jr, the president's son, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and former Soviet intelligence officer Rimat Akhmetshin at Trump Tower in New York on June 9 2016.

All week, revelations have intensified the pressure on Mr Trump's core team.

On Saturday it emerged that eight people were present at the meeting, including an unnamed translator and a member of the prominent Russian family who had asked the meeting to be set up.

An email chain revealed the meeting was brokered by Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, who said his client had damaging information on the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Mr Trump's campaign. Mr Trump Jr was eager to accept.

Mr Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended.

Mr Trump Jr has said the meeting quickly turned to the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed sanctions on some Russian citizens for alleged rights violations.

The law so infuriated Moscow that it imposed a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. The presence of Mr Akhmetshin was a clear sign of how hard Moscow was pushing to gain influence and persuade Mr Trump to drop sanctions against Russians contained in the Magnitsky Act, according to Bill Browder, whose campaigning led to the sanctions and who is due to give evidence to the Senate judiciary committee next week.

"Basically, it only makes it more clear that the Russians were trying as hard as they could to pursue the agenda of getting rid of the Magnitsky Act," he said. But the meeting, and the email chain that set it up, has raised serious questions about potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

While critics initially focused on Mr Trump Jr, who does not hold a position at the White House, it is Mr Kushner who could ultimately pay a higher price.

Crucially, he twice failed to disclose the meeting on application forms for security clearance that he was requested to submit as a government employee. Intentionally concealing or falsifying information on the forms, known as SF-86s, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail.

While Mr Kushner's lawyers have indicated it was an innocent omission Democrats scent blood.

One senior Democrat said: "He watched his father-in-law on television say no one in the campaign talked to the Russian government. He knew that was false."

The omission has also presented an opening for Democrats to target Ivanka Trump, who is employed by her father as a White House senior adviser.

The SF-86 asks whether "you, or any member of your immediate family, in the past seven years, had any contact with a foreign government, or its representatives, whether inside or outside the US?". Immediate family includes spouses.

"Has she (Ivanka Trump) updated her security clearance paperwork to reflect this and other meetings which Jared Kushner failed to disclose?" a senior Democrat said.

A White House spokeswoman said attacks on the couple were "ridiculous" and an example of "Democrats playing political games".

But it was part of a wider campaign targeting Mr Kushner. That included Democrats trying to secure an amendment in Congress preventing the government from allowing security clearance for White House employees under investigation.

That was squarely aimed at Mr Kushner who has been identified as a "person of interest" in a Department of Justice probe into any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Elijah Cummings, the leading Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, also wrote to Mr Kushner demanding to see his security clearance application.

Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said: "We now have three examples of meetings that he omitted or forgot."

Mr Kushner has responded by urging the White House communications team to be more aggressive. Sources close to him say he wants more people on television defending him.

When asked about the situation a White House official appeared to carry out Mr Kushner's wishes, arguing forcefully that the media should instead investigate links between Democrats and Ukraine during the election.

The official said: "If you're looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country then what about the Democratic National Committee which co-ordinated opposition research with the Ukraine Embassy?"

Another Republican connected to the White House said Mr Kushner was the victim of a Democrat "smear campaign".

Mr Kushner first filed his SF-86 form to the FBI on January 18 but the section where he was supposed to list foreign contacts was left blank.

In May an updated form was filed which included more then 100 meetings with foreign officials from nearly two dozen countries, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and the head of a Russian bank Sergey Gorkov.

The meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya and Mr Akhmetshin was not listed.

On June 21 his lawyers filed another amended form, including the key meeting. The lawyers have indicated that it was not disclosed previously because someone prematurely pressed send on the application form.

Democrats expressed scepticism about that.

Price Floyd, former head of public affairs at the Defence Department under President Barack Obama, said: "Having filled out dozens of SF-86 security clearance forms, and been interviewed numerous times by the FBI as well, that is just BS."

Perhaps most concerning for the Kushners was the first call from a Republican Member of Congress for them to vacate the White House.

Speaking on Friday night Bill Flores, a Republican congressman from Texas, said: "I'm going out on a limb here, but I would say I think it would be in the president's best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House."

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