[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on June 7, 2017.]
Jared Kushner (JD/MBA, NYU, ’07) has a law degree from one of the finest universities in the country. He understands the threat that Trump’s words and deeds pose to democracy and the rule of law, but he has been in close proximity to Trump scandals that threaten both. He is a man of few public words, but his policy portfolio for Trump is enormous. He is uniquely positioned to keep Trump from running amok, but he has joined the ranks of Trump’s enablers.
Kushner is also the administration’s Forrest Gump. When Trump met with business leaders on Jan. 23, Kushner attended. On Jan. 29, 2017 — three days after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had told White House counsel Don McGahn that national security adviser Mike Flynn could be subject to Russian blackmail — Kushner was sitting in the Oval Office with Trump and Flynn. When Trump conferred with government cyber-security experts on Jan. 31, Kushner was with him. And on May 8, 2017, when Trump confided to a small group of advisers that he was going to fire FBI Director James Comey, Kushner was among the trusted few.
Our Kushner timeline, below, taps entries from our overall Trump-Russia timeline and adds others that are unique to him. As the facts unfold, this timeline will be updated. Eventually, the public will learn the full story of Jared Kushner’s role in the controversies enveloping the Trump White House — and to what extent he shares responsibility for them. Like many of the lawyers surrounding and enabling Trump, Kushner has retained a personal attorney to help him navigate the troubled waters engulfing the White House.
While reviewing the Kushner timeline and considering the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, recall Yates’ meeting with McGahn in late January. Regardless of whether Flynn’s actions were illegal, he was “compromised” and subject to Russian blackmail because the Russians knew more about what he’d done with them than the American people did. Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair, is charged with finding criminal actions. But sometimes even lawful conduct beyond the purview of any special counsel can present a clear and present danger to the nation’s vital interests.
Kushner, Conflicts, and China
June 16, 2015: Trump announces that he is running for president. His 34-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, runs a real estate empire that his father created and ran until New Jersey’s then-federal prosecutor Chris Christie put Charles Kushner in prison. The Kushner Companies’ flagship building is a Manhattan skyscraper (666 Fifth Avenue) that it bought at the height of the real estate market in 2007 and that promptly plummeted in value. To stave off default, the company sold off pieces, but it’s still in trouble. The building has a 70 percent occupancy rate, revenue covers only two-thirds of its debt obligations and a $1.2 billion mortgage comes due in 2019. Kushner Companies is reportedly trying to assemble a $7 billion financing package to convert the building into condos.
Around June 2016: As Trump secures the Republican nomination for president, a Chinese financial giant, Anbang Insurance Group, begins talks with Kushner Companies about investing in the redevelopment of 666 Fifth Avenue.
Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day.
Nov. 16, 2016: Jared Kushner and a group of executives dine at the Waldorf Astoria with the chairman of China’s Anbang Insurance Group.
Nov. 28, 2016: As speculation grows that Kushner will become a top Trump White House adviser, reports surface that business conflicts of interest could pose problems for him. Among them is a Kushner project in New Jersey that attracted tens of millions of dollars from Chinese investors by marketing a controversial US immigration program (EB-5), which opens a speedy path to citizenship for investors who put more than $500,000 in projects located in economically disadvantaged “targeted employment areas.” The program has become controversial because gerrymandering of census tracts has allowed otherwise ineligible real estate developments to benefit from tenuous geographic connections to poor neighborhoods.
Dec. 2, 2016: Trump accepts a call from Taiwan’s president, thereby offending China’s president by violating America’s longstanding “one China” policy.
Jan. 31, 2017: A Kushner Companies spokesperson announces that Jared Kushner has sold his interest in 666 Fifth Avenue to a family trust of which he, Ivanka and their children are not beneficiaries.
Feb. 9, 2017: Jared Kushner reportedly orchestrates a fence-mending phone call between Trump and China’s president, during which Trump reaffirms the US “one China” policy that his earlier conduct had placed in doubt.
March 13, 2017: Bloomberg reports that the Kushner family may receive as much as $400 million from Chinese investor Anbang Insurance Group’s investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. On March 29, Anbang backs out of the deal.
May 6, 2012: Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, touts Jared’s proximity to Trump, as well as the EB-5 citizenship program, as selling points to potential Chinese investors in Kushner Companies’ One Journal Square development in New Jersey. The project appears to benefit from the type of gerrymandering that generates criticism of the EB-5 program.
Kushner and Russia
April through November 2016: Mike Flynn and other advisers to the Trump campaign have at least 18 phone calls and emails with Russian officials, including six contacts involving Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. According to a later report by Reuters, Jared Kushner has at least two phone calls with Kislyak.
June 2016: Jared Kushner assumes control of all data-driven Trump campaign efforts, turning a nondescript building outside San Antonio, Texas into a 100-person data hub. Among the firms he retains is Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly has created “profiles” consisting of several thousand data points for 220 million Americans. Cambridge Analytica’s financial backers include hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer, who also has a $10 million investment in Breitbart News, which, at the time, is run by Steve Bannon.
December 2016: At Kislyak’s request, Kushner meets secretly with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Russia’s state-owned bank VEB. US intelligence reportedly views Gorkov as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies. In 2010, VEB had been involved in a financial transaction that assisted the struggling Trump International Hotel and Tower project in Toronto. Since 2014, VEB has been subject to US sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine. In December 2016, Kushner is still looking for more than $1 billion from investors to refinance Kushner Companies’ debt on its troubled 666 Fifth Avenue building. The public remains unaware of the Kushner/Gorkov meeting until March 2017, when The New York Times breaks the story. The White House characterizes it as a routine diplomatic encounter that went nowhere, but VEB says it was part of the bank’s ongoing business strategy. For months thereafter, the White House refuses to disclose the date of the meeting. On June 1, 2017, The Washington Post reports the results of its independent investigation: On Dec. 13, 2016, a private plane associated with VEB (and on which its executives travel) flew from Moscow to Newark airport outside New York City. The following day, the plane then flew to Japan, where Putin met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 15.
Late December 2016: Steve Bannon joins Flynn and Kushner for a secret meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December.
Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day President Obama announces sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn places five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.
Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin makes a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweets:
On or around Jan. 11, 2017: Erik Prince — the founder of the Blackwater private security firm, $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign, and brother of Trump’s nomination for secretary of education Betsy DeVos — meets secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal is to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration. The meeting had been arranged by the United Arab Emirates, and came soon after a meeting between the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner in December.
Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President Pence says Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Host John Dickerson asks Pence, “Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence replies, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
Jan. 18, 2017: On his application for national security clearance, Jared Kushner omits his December meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the chief of the Russian bank VEB.
During the week following the Jan. 20, 2017 inauguration: Trump administration officials are considering an executive order to lift unilaterally the US sanctions against Russia. Removing the sanctions also would have expanded greatly the Russian bank VEB’s ability to do business in the US, and allowed Americans to borrow from and provide financing to the bank. Five months later, Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff breaks the rest of the story: “Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.” State Department officials are so alarmed that they urge congressional leaders to pass legislation that would lock the sanctions in place. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) become involved.
Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer says that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to The Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviews Flynn shortly thereafter.
Jan. 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denies to FBI agents that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.
Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House Counsel Don McGahn that, based on recent public statements of White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had lied to Pence and others about his late-December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to Sean Spicer, Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”
Jan. 27, 2017: McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House for another discussion about Flynn. He asks Yates, “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another?” Yates explains that Flynn’s lies make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the Russians know that Flynn lied and could probably prove it.
Also on Jan. 27, 2017: In a one-on-one White House dinner that Trump had requested, he asks FBI Director Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty. Comey, who was uneasy about even accepting the dinner invitation, responds that he can’t do that, but he can pledge honesty. Afterward, Comey describes the dinner to several people on the condition that they not disclose it while he remains director of the FBI.
Jan. 29, 2017: TIME photographs Trump at his desk in the Oval Office. Sitting across from him are Kushner and Flynn, about whom Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House earlier that week. The caption indicates that Trump is speaking on the phone with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Feb. 7, 2017: Sens. Cardin and Graham introduce bipartisan legislation that would bar Trump from granting sanctions relief to Russia without congressional involvement.
Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn tells reporters at The Washington Post he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changes his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Feb. 10, 2017: Trump tells reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post breaks another story: Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigns.
Feb. 14, 2017: In a private Oval Office meeting, Trump asks FBI Director Comey to halt the investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn. According to Comey’s contemporaneous memorandum, Trump says, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” According to the memo, Trump tells Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey does not say anything to Trump about halting the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”
March 2, 2017: The New York Times reports, and the White House confirms, a previously undisclosed meeting involving Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner and Russian Ambassador Kislyak. According to The Times, “Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to ‘establish a line of communication’ between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.”
March 27, 2017: The New York Times reports the previously undisclosed December meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian bank VEB. On May 29, 2017, the White House says that Kushner met the banker “in his capacity as a transition official.” The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to question Kushner about both of Kushner’s December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov.
April 6, 2017: The New York Times reports that Jared Kushner’s application for national security clearance had failed to disclose his December meetings at Trump Tower with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the CEO of the Russian bank, VEB. In a statement, Kushner’s attorney says that after learning of the error, Mr. Kushner told the FBI: “During the presidential campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the president-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity. … I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts.”
May 15, 2017: Trump meets in the Oval Office with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who had arranged the January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Erik Prince and a Russian close to Putin.
May 18, 2017: TIME reports that congressional investigators are reviewing whether Cambridge Analytica or Breitbart News played any role in working with Russian efforts to help Trump win the election.
May 19, 2017: The Washington Post reports that federal investigators in the Trump/Russia matter have identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest. On May 25, news reports identify the official as Jared Kushner.
May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports on Kushner’s Dec. 1 or 2 meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak at which, according to Kislyak, Kushner requested a secret and secure communication channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. In mid-December, an anonymous letter had tipped off The Post to what Kushner had supposedly said at the meeting. Former US intelligence officials described the idea of a back channel using a hostile foreign power’s facilities as “disturbing” and “dangerous.”
Also on May 26, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Trump campaign produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records dating to June 2015, when the campaign was launched.
May 27, 2017: Reuters reports that Jared Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during and after the presidential campaign. Two were phone calls between April and November. His attorney says that Kushner “has no recollection of the calls as described” and asks Reuters for the dates that they allegedly occurred.
May 28, 2017: In three Sunday morning talk show appearances, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that if Kushner was trying to a create a back channel to communicate with the Russian government, it was a “good thing.” Veteran diplomatic and intelligence experts remain unconvinced.
May 31, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is moving toward returning two suspected espionage compounds to Russia. When President Obama issued new sanctions on Dec. 29, he said that the compounds — located in New York and Maryland — were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and had given Russia 24 hours to vacate them.
Also on May 31, 2017: Sergey Gorkov, head of Russian bank VEB, refuses to comment in response to reporters’ questions about his December 2016 meeting with Jared Kushner.
Kushner and the Comey Cover-up
May 8, 2017: Trump informs a small group of his closest advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner and White House counsel Don McGahn, that he plans to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to The New York Times, McGahn counsels Trump to delay dismissing Comey; Kushner urges him to proceed.
Also on May 8, 2017: Trump follows Kushner’s advice and, according to ABC News, Kushner, White House counsel Don McGahn, Vice President Pence and chief of staff Reince Priebus begin to prepare talking points about Comey’s planned firing. Meanwhile, Trump summons Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to the White House, where he instructs them provide a written justification for removing Comey. Before Rosenstein prepares the requested memo, he knows Trump intends to fire Comey.
To be continued…