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Trump son-in-law under pressure over Russia scandal

  • Chris Lefkow

    AFP

Washington, United States | Fri, July 14, 2017 | 08:59 am
Trump son-in-law under pressure over Russia scandal This file photo taken on May 23 shows Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump, arriving at Rome's Fiumicino Airport. The activities of President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner have come under FBI scrutiny as part of the probe of Russian interference in last year's presidential election, US media reported May 25. (AFP/Filippo Monteforte )

Donald Trump's eldest son Don Jr may be in the media spotlight over his notorious Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But the latest revelation in the burgeoning scandal has added to the pressure on another family member who was at the meeting and is already in the crosshairs of investigators -- Jared Kushner, the president's influential son-in-law.

Democrats are up in arms, demanding that the 36-year-old Kushner -- a senior adviser to the president with an office in the White House -- be stripped of his security clearance.

"There doesn't seem to be any ethical standard in the White House," Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday. 

"Jared Kushner's security clearance must be immediately revoked."

Even some from Trump's Republican Party are not so sure that Kushner -- who is married to the president's eldest daughter Ivanka -- should remain in the West Wing.

"I'm going out on a limb here — but I would say I think it would be in the president's best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House," Texas Representative Bill Flores told local television Thursday.

"Not only Donald Trump (Jr.), but Ivanka and Jared Kushner."

- Omissions on security clearance forms -

While Donald Jr has no role in his father's administration -- he is helping run his corporate empire -- Kushner is one of Trump's closest advisors.

The Harvard graduate is also the progeny of a powerful New York real estate family, and has long been in Trump's inner circle.

It was actually an omission on a government security clearance application filed by Kushner that led to the revelation of the meeting between himself, Donald Jr, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Russian lawyer.

It also led Donald Jr to release an email chain about the planning of that meeting -- which is now being cited as the most serious evidence yet of alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

In the June 2016 emails, Donald Jr eagerly agrees to a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who is said to possess incriminating information about Clinton and invites Kushner and Manafort to come along.

Kushner, filing a security clearance document known as an SF-86, initially neglected to mention that he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya -- as well as contacts he had with several other Russians, including Moscow's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

The meeting with Veselnitskaya came to light only after Kushner filed an amended SF-86 form.

Veselnitskaya confirmed to CNN and MSNBC that Kushner attended the meeting but said he was there for only "seven to 10 minutes" and she had never intended to hand over damaging information about Clinton anyway.

- Russia ties under microscope -

But even before revelations of the Veselnitskaya meeting came to light, Kushner's other dealings with Russian officials have been facing scrutiny.

According to The Washington Post, Kushner -- at a December 2016 meeting with Kislyak -- raised the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications link between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.

That same month, Kushner also met with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Vnesheconombank and a former member of Russian intelligence. The bank, a key arm of the Russian government, is under tough US sanctions.

The Post reported last month that Kushner's finances and business dealings were being examined as part of the probe led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign teamed with Russia to help tilt the presidential race in favor of the billionaire tycoon.

And this week, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that congressional and Justice Department investigators were looking into whether the Trump campaign helped Russian cyber operatives bombard key voting districts with "fake news" about Clinton.

Kushner was in charge of the Trump campaign's digital operations. He now plays a major role in shaping foreign policy.

- 'Witch hunt'? -

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a massive effort to swing the election to Trump, including hacking and leaking embarrassing emails from Democrats.

Trump has vehemently denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia and repeatedly claimed to be the victim of a "witch hunt" by the media and sore loser Democrats. 

Kushner is expected to discuss his Russian contacts at some point with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading one of the several probes into Russian election interference.

But ahead of that testimony -- and with unanswered questions mounting around him -- opposition Democrats are demanding action now.

"It is unclear why Mr. Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated," said a letter from nearly 20 members of the House Oversight Committee sent to the White House last month. (**)

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