Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret communications line with Moscow. (More)

“Extremely naïve or absolutely crazy”

The Washington Post reported last night that Out House senior advisor and God-King son-in-law Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret communications line through the Russian embassy:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
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Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.

“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naïve or absolutely crazy.”

I’ll add a third option: convinced that no consequences would ever stick to him, because none ever has.

“It seems sensible to discount their future self-serving but unverifiable claims”

While the New York Times offers a more anodyne report citing Out House officials who said the attempt was an innocent attempt to discuss U.S.-Russian options in Syria, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias offers good reasons to doubt the Times’ sources:

The reporters and editors at the Times are putting forward their account not merely as a faithful representative of what it is that White House sources are saying about the Kushner-Kislyak conversation but as an accurate representation of the underlying reality.

Documentary evidence or sworn testimony may emerge some day to confirm this characterization of events, but on its own terms it seems hard to believe for three reasons.

— One is that it’s not clear why a Syria backchannel the Times is positing would require access to the Russian government’s secure diplomatic communication channels.

— The other is that it’s not clear from the Times’ account why the backchannel was never established. In the Post’s story, Russia rejected the use of diplomatic channels as unworkable and then Kushner dropped the matter since the ability to evade US government surveillance was evidently key to whatever he wanted.

— Last, the Trump White House simply lies very frequently. Sometimes they lie about obvious, easily checkable facts like how many people attended Trump’s inauguration or whether or NATO members owe a financial debt to the United States. When a group of people lie frequently, it seems sensible to discount their future self-serving but unverifiable claims.

That last point is important. The Times still too often treats the God-King’s administration as if it were like any other, accepting staffers’ explanations at face value unless a given statement is plainly suspicious. Given the God-King’s and his staff’s track record, the more logical choice would be to assume they’re lying unless a given statement is plainly true.

Yglesias also spotlights the elephant in the room:

Whatever happened behind closed doors in Trump Tower back in December, it’s worth recalling the events that played out quite publicly this week in Brussels.

On May 24, Trump’s national security advisors – who, with Flynn gone, overwhelmingly have conventional American views on Russia and NATO – gave the New York Times a heads-up that Trump’s speech at the NATO conference in Brussels would affirm his commitment to the alliance’s core guarantee of collective security.

Then when it came time to give the speech, Trump didn’t do that.
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To undermine NATO in this way has, of course, been a core goal of Russian (and, earlier, Soviet) foreign policy as long as NATO has existed. And through all the ups and downs of the Cold War and post-Cold War eras, Russia has never scored a success on that front as striking as Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency and his continued refusal to affirm that the United States will defend its allies. Why exactly Trump won’t do that remains a mystery, but the conduct itself is striking – in some ways all the more so because it involves Trump overruling the professional opinion of his own aides in favor of a different, more Russia-friendly line.

So why are the God-King and Kushner so “Russia friendly?”

“It’s also possible that he saw the Russians as potential investors”

Bloomberg’s Timothy O’Brien offers some context:

But the Washington Post also reported – and this seems central and crucial as to why the president’s son-in-law is a different sort of target here – that the FBI is focusing on a series of conversations that Kushner had in December with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

At the time, Kushner had already spent months trying to arrange fresh financing for a troubled building his family owns, 666 Fifth Avenue.

After one of those meetings, Kislyak arranged a meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, the powerful chief executive of a major Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, also known as VEB.

The U.S. had imposed financial sanctions on VEB because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military incursions in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. (During this period the Russians were also meeting with Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser.)
VEB has close ties to the Kremlin, and Gorkov attended a training academy for members of Russia’s security and intelligence services. A Trump spokeswoman has described Kushner’s meetings with the Russians as routine, which they may have been given his role at the time as Trump’s liaison to foreign powers.

But given the significance of 666 Fifth Avenue to Kushner and his family’s fortunes, it’s also possible that he saw the Russians as potential investors.

More and more, it seems the God-King and his clan want to use U.S. foreign policy to further their personal financial fortunes.

“Part of preparing a new corporate strategy”

And that’s how Kushner drew the FBI’s attention, Reuters reports:

FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn’s contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said.

Kushner’s was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president’s son-in-law’s dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.

FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.
The head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, a trained intelligence officer whom Putin appointed, met Kushner at Trump Tower in December. The bank is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case in which one of its New York executives pleaded guilty to spying and was jailed.

The bank said in a statement in March that it had met with Kushner along with other representatives of U.S. banks and business as part of preparing a new corporate strategy.

A new corporate strategy of lending money to a U.S. President and his son-in-law?

“An avalanche of revelations about its dealings with Russia”

The Post’s Amber Phillips says the latest Kushner story may be the most damning evidence yet:

The Washington Post’s national security team just reported that during the transition, Jared Kushner proposed to the Russians that they set up a secret channel of communication using secure Russian facilities. That’s what the Russian ambassador to the United States told Moscow about a December conversation he had with Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.

This is a damning piece of news for the White House caught under an avalanche of revelations about its dealings with Russia.

Phillips reports each piece of the puzzle with the customary caveats, while noting the caveats are growing thin:

Secret back channels. Meeting with the Russians. Forgetting to disclose your meetings with the Russians. (Kushner is just one of several current and former Trump campaign officials who held meetings with the Russians, then forgot to share those meetings.)

If the Trump campaign did not work with Russia to try to influence the election, they certainly had a lot of interactions with the Russians that they didn’t want the U.S. government and/or the public to know about.

Which raises the question: What reason would Kushner have to keep talks secret from the U.S. government, when his father-in-law was a month away from being the head of the U.S. government?
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Revelations into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia have made their interactions look more – not less – suspicious. That Kushner may have tried to establish secret communications with the Russians tops that list.

At some point, Republicans’ and conservative pundits’ howling “But there’s no proof of collusion yet!” seems less like a defense and more like desperate denial.

“Gather and produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to … June 2015”

The Senate Intelligence Committee seems to agree, per the Post’s Robert Costa:

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, has asked President Trump’s political organization to gather and produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to his campaign’s launch in June 2015, according to two people briefed on the request.

The letter from the Senate arrived at Trump’s campaign committee last week and was addressed to the group’s treasurer. Since then, some former staffers have been notified and asked to cooperate, the people said. They were not authorized to speak publicly.

The demand follows a Senate request months earlier for the campaign committee to preserve documents.

Of course, the God-King has a record of destroying documents, even when under subpoena. Also, the Times reports that a Russian oligarch is willing to testify to Congress, although so far House and Senate leaders have declined his request for immunity.

“The White House in its current structure … is not prepared for really a one-front war, let alone a two-front war”

Small wonder, then, that the God-King is setting up a “war room” to fight the investigations, per Reuters:

Once U.S. President Donald Trump returns from his overseas trip, the White House plans to launch its most aggressive effort yet to push back against allegations involving Russia and his presidential campaign, tackling head-on a scandal that has threatened to consume his young presidency.

Trump’s advisers are planning to establish a “war room” to combat mounting questions about communication between Russia and his presidential campaign before and after November’s presidential election, while bringing new aides into the White House, administration officials and persons close to Trump told Reuters.

The strategic shake-up comes as Republicans in Washington increasingly have fretted that the probe, continued chaos in the West Wing and Trump’s steady slide in opinion polls will derail the president’s drive to reform healthcare, cut taxes and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Upon Trump’s return, the administration will add experienced political professionals, including Trump’s former campaign manager, and possibly more lawyers to handle the Russia probe, which has gained new urgency since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to head the investigation, the sources said.

Beyond pushing back at suggestions that Moscow is unduly influencing Trump’s administration, the messaging effort will also focus on advancing Trump’s stalled policy agenda and likely involve more trips out of Washington that will feature the kind of raucous rallies that were the hallmark of Trump’s campaign.

The God-King still seems convinced that huge public rallies will keep his base – and members of Congress – in his thrall.

A person in regular touch with the White House said it needed a different structure to focus on the “new reality” that there would be continued leaks to the media from the law enforcement and intelligence communities, leaks that have increased in frequency since Trump fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey on May 9.

“Since the firing of Comey, that really exposed the fact that the White House in its current structure … is not prepared for really a one-front war, let alone a two-front war,” the person said. “They need to have a structure in place that allows them to stay focused” while “also truly fighting back on these attacks and these leaks.”

Or, maybe, they could just come clean. Nah….

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Photo Credit: Jim Bourg (Reuters)

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Good day and good nuts