Members of Trump's legal team reportedly wanted Jared Kushner to step down over his Russia ties
Members of President Donald Trump's legal team wanted his son-in-law Jared Kushner to resign from his position as a senior adviser because of his controversial meetings with Russian nationals during the election and his initial failure to disclose them on his security clearance form, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Trump's main lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, told the Journal that he "didn't agree" with some of his colleagues' view that Kushner should resign.
"I thought it was absurd,” Dowd said. “I made my views known.”
Marc Kasowitz, Trump's former attorney who took on a reduced role following a minor email scandal, largely echoed Dowd's sentiments. White House special counsel Ty Cobb called the report "completely false" in a statement on Monday night.
According to the Journal, however, some of Trump's laywers went as far as to draft a statement for Kushner to explain why he was stepping down. Trump resisted, telling aides that Kushner had done nothing wrong.
Kushner met twice with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 — once during the election at the Mayflower Hotel in April and again during the transition period at Trump Tower in December — and once with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank, Sergey Gorkov, who was personally appointed by Vladimir Putin.
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Kushner also attended a meeting organized by his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. Trump's attorneys were aware of that meeting when they began pushing for his ouster, according to the Journal, since he was the only one at the meeting who currently holds a White House job.
In an 11-page statement provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee in late July detailing his Russian contacts during the campaign and transition period, Kushner said he "did not recall" the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin until he began "reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information."
Trump's legal team reportedly prepared talking points to address the meeting, but never used them — instead, Donald Trump Jr. issued a misleading statement that arguably made matters far worse for the White House.
Kushner also drew scrutiny at the beginning of the summer when the Washington Post reported that he had tried to establish a secret line of communication between the Trump administration and Russian government officials during the transition period.
In talks with Kislyak in December — which Kushner did not originally disclose on his security clearance form — Kushner floated the possibility of using Russian diplomatic facilities in the US to essentially conceal the transition's interactions with Russian officials from US government scrutiny, The Post wrote, citing US intelligence officials briefed on the matter.
Kislyak was reportedly "taken aback" by Kushner's request because it posed significant risks for the Trump team and the Kremlin. But he passed along the request to Moscow, which is how it got picked up by US intelligence officials.
Kushner said in his statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee that the communications channel was meant to discuss the US' and Russia's Syria policy.
"I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn," Kushner wrote.
"The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred."
Kislyak reportedly orchestrated the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov, who was appointed by Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank's management team, Bloomberg reported last year.
The Kremlin and the White House have provided conflicting explanations for why Kushner met with Gorkov. Kushner said he met with him in his capacity as a transition official, whereas Gorkov's representatives said he met with Kushner on official business.
Reuters reported earlier this year that the FBI is examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates' business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed.