Jared Kushner has reportedly been encouraged to take a leave of absence from his White House adviser position because of FBI scrutiny of his contacts with Russia.
Administration officials close to US President Donald Trump have been pushing Kushner to step aside while the FBI investigates meetings that Kushner had with Russian figures during the transition period following the November election, ABC News reported on Sunday.
The news website Politico called Kushner the White House’s “lead distraction” following what is being seen as Trump’s mostly successful first foreign trip, which included 28-hours in Israel.
“It’s clear that Jared Kushner will be under intense scrutiny at a time when his father-in-law has named him everything but chief cook and bottle washer,” Democratic strategist David Axelrod, a former top White House adviser to President Barack Obama, told Politico. “It’s bad for the prospects of calm at the White House.”
Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, reportedly flew home Thursday from Rome with his wife, Ivanka Trump, and arrived in his West Wing office on Friday to meet with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss the presidential trip.
Though under scrutiny by the FBI, Kushner has yet to be accused of unlawful behavior, and he has offered to share any information about meetings with Russian officials.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Kushner had proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia.
Kushner, is one of Trump’s closest advisers. He met separately last December — after the election but before Trump assumed office — with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington, and Sergey Gorkov, the head of the government-owned Vnesheconombank, which has been subject to US sanctions because of its role in Russia’s occupation of a part of Ukraine.
Kushner in March said he was ready to testify about his Russia meetings to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from Kushner over the allegations he suggested back-channel Russia contacts, saying his security clearance may need to be revoked.
Trump, having returned from a nine-day overseas trip, immediately railed against administration leaks, calling them “fabricated lies,” in a flurry of tweets.
And his Homeland Security head defended the idea of establishing that kind of communication as a “smart thing” and said he didn’t see “any big issue here” for Kushner.
But to the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, it’s “obviously very concerning” that a key Trump campaign figure was possibly seeking secret communications with a country that intelligence experts say intervened in the 2016 election.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California said the government needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter and urged a review of Kushner’s security clearance “to find out whether he was truthful.”
“If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said.
Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the latest allegations involving Kushner as “serious” and called for a thorough investigation.
“He needs to answer for what was happening at the time,” Booker said. “What’s worrying me are the patterns we’re seeing. So one is this administration not talking about our values, cozying up to authoritarian leaders. And the other pattern we have is just a continuous drumbeat of inappropriate contacts with the Russians.”
Lawyers for Kushner said he was willing to talk with federal and congressional investigators about his foreign contacts and his work on the Trump campaign.
The disclosure of the back channel put the White House on the defensive. Just back from visiting the Middle East and Europe, Trump on Sunday dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”
“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies,” Trump tweeted. He added: “Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names … it is very possible that those sources don’t exist.”
Kushner’s involvement in the proposed back channel was first reported by The Washington Post, which said he suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities for the discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor. The newspaper cited anonymous US officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.
The Post reported that Kislyak was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well for as the Trump team.
According to the person familiar with the Kushner meeting, the Trump team eventually felt there was no need for a back channel once Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state on Feb. 1.
Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy. He remains an influential confidant within the White House, as does his wife, Ivanka Trump.
Federal investigators and several congressional committees are looking into any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, including allegations that there may have been collaboration to help Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, has requested information and documents from Trump’s campaign dating back to July 2015, the AP and other news outlets confirmed.