News reports circulated last week that Jared C. Kushner, the son-in-law turned advisor to President Trump, is now a person of interest in the FBI investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
According to the reports, the FBI’s specific interest in Kushner is focused on a series of meeting that he held with Russian ambassador Sergei I. Kislyak and Sergei N. Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank (also known as Veb) the Kremlin-controlled Russian state development bank. Gorkov is also a graduate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Academy. The FSB is one of the Russian intelligence agencies at the heart of the allegations of interference in the 2016 election. Veb has been associated with spy intrigue as well. Evgeny Buryakov, a senior official at Veb, was deported last month after his conviction last year on espionage charges.
A Series of Meetings at Heart of Investigation
Both NBC News and the Washington Post reported that the FBI is interested in a series of three meetings Kushner or his aides held with Kislyak and Gorkov.
The first, held early last December, involved Kushner, Kislyak, fired National Security adviser Michael T. Flynn. It was held in New York, most likely at Trump Tower, and the discussion reportedly centered around U.S.-Russian relations, possibly to include American sanctions imposed on Russia.
An aide to Kushner attended a second meeting with Kislyak. It is unclear what the subject of that meeting was. After the second Kislyak meeting, at the end of December, Kushner held a meeting with Gorkov.
Different Accounts of Kushner-Gorkov Meeting
The Trump administration and Russian officials have given different accounts of the Gorkov meeting. A Veb spokesman said it merely was one of a series of that bank officials held with “the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.” A spokesman for Putin endorsed that view, saying the meeting with Gorkov “was ordinary [bank] business.”
An unnamed White House official said Kushner attended the meeting with the Russian banker “in his capacity as a transition official in his role as a member of the Trump transition team.”
Timing of Kushner-Gorkov Meeting Is Crucial
The timing of the Kushner meeting with Gorkov is critical. As Business Insider reported, it “. . . came as Kushner was trying to find investors for a Fifth Avenue office building in Manhattan that is set to be heavily financed by Anbang Insurance Group, a firm with ties to the Chinese government.” The Anbang deal fell through earlier this year.
New York real estate insiders told Roughly Explained it was common knowledge within the industry that, at the time of his meeting with Gorkov, Kushner “was shopping around” for a source of funds that would help his family bail out 666 Fifth Avenue, the firm’s planned flagship building that had been losing money since at least 2008.
After The New York Times first reported on the Kushner-Gorkov meeting, a White House White House spokeswoman said “the Kushner Tower” project wasn’t discussed during the meeting.
How Did Gorkov Know Kushner Needed Money?
Here is the time-line that everyone agrees upon: Kushner met with Kislyak; there was a follow-up meeting between a Kushner representative and the ambassador; then Kushner has a meeting with the Russian banker.
The Russians are not known for their veracity. But, for the moment, let us assume that the Veb and Putin spokesmen are telling the truth – the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov merely involved financial matters.
Current and former government investigators have said the circumstances that surround the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov raise major red flags. The investigators all have the same question: How did Gorkov know the Kushner family needed money for their Fifth Avenue building?
One possible way is that Kushner or someone close to him mentioned it to Kislyak. Another is that one of the many Russian real estate developers with whom Trump has done business knew about it, and passed it on. Or an unknown third party either could have passed it on, or have been a Russian agent (willingly or not). We do not know. But, it’s likely a question Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller will be looking to answer.
The author is a former Congressional investigator.