The Russian Connection: A Family Affair

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has a new unpaid job. He will now be in charge of everything as head of he newly created Office of American Innovation, which will now free Trump to golf as much as he wants. He will head a “SWAT” team of former business executives to overhaul government from top to bottom.

However, Kushner has another problem that he created himself. He has volunteered to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The Senate committee has apparently seen hard evidence that might support the charge of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. They now want to talk to Kushner about the previously undisclosed meeting that was arranged by the ambassador with the head of a Russian bank that is on the sanctions list.

The encounter at Trump Tower also included the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned from the Trump administration after misleading vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of his discussions with Kislyak.

Late on Monday a Russian bank under western economic sanctions over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine also disclosed that its executives had met Kushner during the election campaign. [..]

Executives of Vnesheconombank (VEB) had talks with Kushner during a roadshow last year, Reuter reported late on Monday, citing an emailed statement from the bank. Meetings took place “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies”. VEB declined to say where the meetings took place or the dates.

There was no immediate comment from Kushner.

According to the Reuters report, US officials said that Kushner met in December with Sergei Gorkov, chairman of Vnesheconombank. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed the meetings, saying nothing of consequence was discussed.

Gorkov was appointed head of VEB in early 2016 by Vladimir Putin. He graduated from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, Russia’s internal security agency. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland, according to the bank’s website.

The Vnesheconombank was placed on the sanctions list by President Barak Obama after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in the politics of the Ukraine. The bank also hosted a spy ring at it’s New York City office:

A Russian citizen whom US authorities accused of posing as a banker while participating in a New York City spy ring that sought to collect economic and other intelligence pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge on Friday.

Evgeny Buryakov, 41, admitted guilt in federal court in Manhattan less than a month before he was set to face trial for failing to register as an agent of the Russian government and conspiring to act as an agent without notifying US authorities.

Buryakov, who worked at Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, was arrested in January 2015 as US authorities unveiled charges against him and two other Russians, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy. [..]

US prosecutors have said the trio conspired to gather economic intelligence on behalf of Russia, including information about US sanctions against the country, and to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources.

The prosecutor in that case was former US Attorney Preet Bharara.

As Marcy Wheeler points out, this meeting is getting closer to quid pro quo:

NYT raises the possibility that Kushner discussed his efforts to fund one of his family’s business in NYC, though Hope Hicks claimed it — and the sanctions — did not come up.

But consider how this meeting might interact with another known Kislyak conversation, the multiple calls with Flynn on December 29 after Obama imposed hacking related sanctions. In context, that conversation was about the hacking sanctions, not the more onerous Ukraine ones. But if Kushner had just met with a sanctioned bank and discussed those sanctions, that could change Kislyak’s understanding of what Flynn was saying.

One mistake of a lot of the frenzied speculation is a focus on changing US policy towards Ukraine, a focus not borne out by the public evidence. The result of that focus is to ignore what the Christopher Steele dossier makes clear was the real Russian goal, unsurprisingly: the lifting of the Ukraine-related sanctions.

There still is no evidence that’s what happened at this meeting that Kushner succeeded in hiding from people within the White House. But if it did, then it might amount to far more than all the smoke swirling around Manafort, Page, and Stone.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow gives her perspective on Kushner’s new responsibilities and background on Gorgov, the former Russian spy-turned-bank-official.