The White House has been struggling to explain why exactly Jared Kushner had several secret contacts in December with the Russians, including one in which he met with the head of a Russian state-run bank mid-month.
Suffice it say, none of the explanations put forward by the Trump administration add up, and now the bank, Vnesheconombank (VEB), has provided an account that is directly at odds with the White House version of events, writes the Washington Post.
The bank maintained this week that the session was held as part of a new business strategy and was conducted with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business. The White House says the meeting was unrelated to business and was one of many diplomatic encounters the soon-to-be presidential adviser was holding ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
First off, neither of those scenarios necessarily plays well for Kushner.
A diplomatic meeting would have provided the bank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014, a chance to press for rolling back the penalties even as the Obama administration was weighing additional retaliations against Moscow for Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
A business meeting between an international development bank and a real estate executive, coming as Kushner’s company had been seeking financing for its troubled $1.8 billion purchase of an office building on Fifth Avenue in New York, could raise questions about whether Kushner’s personal financial interests were colliding with his impending role as a public official.
Second, Kushner reportedly met with VEB chief and Putin ally Sergey Gorkov at the behest of Kislyak, following their early December meeting, which was also attended by Michael Flynn. That's the same meeting in which Kushner sought to establish covert communications with the Russians—a bombshell revelation last Friday that also prompted an explanation from the administration.
Kushner spoke with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about creating that line of communication to facilitate sensitive discussions aimed at exploring the incoming administration's options with Russia as it was developing its Syria policy, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke with The Associated Press.
Okay, but if that's the reason Kushner met with Kislyak, then why would Kislyak urge him to meet with the head of a Russian bank? To discuss Syria policy?
None of these explanations add up to a coherent narrative. And frankly, it's mystifying that the VEB formulation seems more plausible than the one advanced by Kushner.
What makes the mid-December Gorkov-Kushner meeting even more intriguing is that, shortly after it took place, Gorkov appears to have met up with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Japan. Here’s some flight-record sleuthing from the Post:
A 19-seat twin-engine jet owned by a company linked to VEB flew from Moscow to the United States on Dec. 13 and departed from the Newark airport, outside New York City, at 5:01 p.m. Dec. 14, according to positional flight information provided by FlightAware, a company that tracks airplanes.
The Post could not confirm whether Gorkov was on the flight, but the plane’s previous flights closely mirror Gorkov’s publicly known travels in recent months, including his trip to St. Petersburg this week.
After leaving Newark on Dec. 14, the jet headed to Japan, where Putin was visiting on Dec. 15 and 16. The news media had reported that Gorkov would join the Russian president there.