Senior White House Official Is ‘Person Of Interest’ In Russia Investigation
The Russia investigation seems to be getting closer to the Oval Office.
In addition to yesterday’s report from The New York Times that President Trump had essentially admitted to Russian officials that he fired F.B.I. Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation. The Washington Post is reporting that the F.B.I.’s probe has identified a current White House official as a person of interest in its investigation of Russian interference in the election and contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials:
The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.
The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
The revelation comes as the investigation also appears to be entering a more overtly active phase, with investigators shifting from work that has remained largely hidden from the public to conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas. The intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, the people said.
The sources emphasized that investigators remain keenly interested in people who previously wielded influence in the Trump campaign and administration but are no longer part of it, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Flynn resigned in February after disclosures that he had lied to administration officials about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillers
People familiar with the investigation said the intensifying effort does not mean criminal charges are near, or that any such charges will result. Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as special counsel and lead the investigation into Russian meddling.
It is unclear exactly how Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe, and he is already bringing in new people to work on the team. Those familiar with the case said its significance had increased before Mueller’s appointment.
Although the case began quietly last July as an effort to determine whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian operatives to meddle in the presidential election campaign, the investigative work now being done by the FBI also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president. The people familiar with the matter said the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take, the people said.
When subpoenas are issued or interviews are requested, it is possible the people being asked to talk or provide documents will reveal publicly what they were asked about.
A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight were notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing Wednesday evening, the people familiar with the matter said. Former FBI director James B. Comey had publicly confirmed the existence of the investigation in March.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of investigations or targets of investigations.” An FBI spokesman declined to comment.1
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, “As the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”
While there has been a loud public debate in recent days over the question of whether the president might have attempted to obstruct justice in his private dealings with Comey, who Trump fired last week, people familiar with the matter said investigators on the case are more focused on Russian influence operations and possible financial crimes.
The FBI’s investigation seeks to determine whether and to what extent Trump associates were in contact with Kremlin operatives, what business dealings they might have had in Russia, and whether they in any way facilitated the hacking and publishing of Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails during the presidential campaign. Several congressional committees are also investigating, though their probes could not produce criminal charges.
A reporter for New York magazine has stated that this “current White House official” is none other than Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner:
— Yashar (@yashar) May 19, 2017
And Washington Post National Security reporter Greg Miller, who did not take part in the report linked above, has said that the White House has acknowledged that Kushner had contact with Russian officials:
The White House has acknowledged that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner had contacts with Russian officials. https://t.co/FXukIjmR5r
— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) May 19, 2017
All of this has been picked up by the United Kingdom’s The Independent:
Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has reportedly been identified as a “person of interest” in the ongoing investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.
The Washington Post said a senior adviser to Mr Trump was among people investigators wanted to speak to. A New York magazine reporter then said the person in question was Mr Kushner, 36, who is married to Mr Trump’s eldest daughter and who flew out of Washington on Friday night to accompany the President on his first official foreign trip.
The Post said the person under investigation was close to the President, but did not identify them. However, the number of people who fit such a profile would be very small.
Yashar Ali, a contributor to New York magazine said on Twitter: “It’s Jared Kushner. Have confirmed this with four people. I’m not speculating.”
The White House did not immediately respond to calls and emails from The Independent seeking comment. The Trump Organisation, which controls the President’s financial interests, also did not respond to queries.
White House officials have previously acknowledged contacts between Russian officials and Mr Kushner, as well as with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The revelation came just two days after the Justice Department announced that former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, had been appointed special counsel to lead the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Reports suggest the investigation also appears to be entering a more overtly active phase, with investigators shifting from work that has remained largely hidden from the public to conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas. The intensity of the probe is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks, the Post said.
At the start, of course, it’s worth noting that the fact that someone may be a ‘person of interest’ in an investigation does not necessarily mean that they are suspected of having committed a criminal act. Nor does it mean that they are now, or will ever become, a target of the investigation in the sense of being someone that prosecutors may be seeking an indictment against at some point in the future. What it essentially means is that there have been enough questions raised about the person(s) in question to warrant further investigation. Whether that leads to them eventually becoming a target or an indicted is something we cannot tell at this stage, and probably won’t learn until there are actual indictments, and even at that point it’s worth remembering that someone accused of a crime is entitled to a presumption of innocence until they are proven (or plead) guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
That being said, though, the fact that the investigation has reached the stage where someone apparently close to the President, who may or may not be Kushner, is now a ‘person of interest’ is yet another headache for the Trump Administration. Moreover, it is a headache that comes at the same time that Trump is beginning his first international trip, which will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Belgium, and Sicily. According to some reports, White House insiders had been hoping all week that the trip would push at least some of the coverage of the Russia investigation to the background, but that seems unlikely to be the case as long as investigative reporters for publications like The New Times and Washington Post continue working on these stories and sources who obviously seem to be coming from inside the White House itself.
In any case, this investigation is clearly entering a far more dangerous and precarious stage not just for the President but for many of the people around him. With the appointment of a special counsel, it’s likely that many of them will come under scrutiny, and that many of them will be called in for questioning before F.B.I. agents and, possibly at some point, a Grand Jury. As with previous such investigations, this likely means that many people in the White House are looking to hire attorneys to represent them if the need should arise (and anyone who allows themselves to be interviewed by an F.B.I. agent without an attorney present is an idiot) and that the White House itself is going to be distracted from enacting the agenda that the President based his campaigned on. Many Administrations have faced this before, of course. The Nixon Administration had Watergate. The Carter Administration had investigations into Office of Management and Budget Bert Lance, Presidential brother Billy Carter’s business dealings with Libya and senior aide Hamilton Jordan. The Reagan Administration, of course, had Iran-Contra. For George H.W. Bush, there were investigations of
Many Administrations have faced this before, of course. The Nixon Administration had Watergate. The Carter Administration had investigations into Office of Management and Budget Bert Lance, Presidential brother Billy Carter’s business dealings with Libya and senior aide Hamilton Jordan. The Reagan Administration, of course, had Iran-Contra. For George H.W. Bush, there were investigations of a handful of minor officials, including the Treasurer of the United States. Bill Clinton’s eight years in office included the investigated of numerous real and alleged scandals ranging from Whitewater and Hillary Clinton’s commodity trades to the sexual harassment allegations of Paula Jones and other women and, of course, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment. George W. Bush’s Administration had to deal with a number of alleged scandals, with one of the most prominent being the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent which resulted in the appointment of a special counsel and the indictment and conviction of Scooter Libbey, the Chief of Staff to Vice-President Cheney. President Obama had to deal with a number of investigations, including the Fast and Furious scandal, the alleged targeting of conservative organizations by the IRS, cover-ups of mismanagement at the Veterans Administration, and, of course, the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
The difference this time, of course, is primarily the speed with which the revelations seem to be coming out, and the fact that all of this is happening so early in Trump’s Presidency and that the White House is mishandling its response in such a tremendously ham-handed manner that it appears that they are either incompetent or they have something to hide, or perhaps it’s both. Whatever it is, we’re only at Day 121 and White House lawyers are already researching impeachment. That still seems unlikely to me at this point, but with the speed that news about this investigation is being generated, it’s hard to say what’s reasonable anymore.