Jared Kushner: a target of the Mueller probe?
What we learned from Flynn’s sentencing memo makes it very likely that Jared Kushner is a target of the Mueller probe
There are a number of important takeaways from Flynn’s sentencing memo.
One is that Mueller stresses Flynn’s value to him in having provided early, timely, and truthful information (including “documents and communications”) in a number of different ongoing investigations. It appears that all of these investigations are currently in overdrive, including the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and of any ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials (the so-called “collusion” investigation).
The second important takeaway is that the sentencing document stresses the value of Flynn’s cooperation especially in connection with contacts between the Trump transition team (of which Flynn had been a prominent member) and Russian officials.
The third noteworthy point is that the sentencing memo cites only one offense for Flynn’s sentencing — just as there was only one in the charging document for Flynn (Statement of Offense) by Mueller a year ago. That offense, which constitutes a felony, was a series of lies to the FBI at the end of January 2017 about two matters: first, conversations Flynn had with Sergey Kislyak at the end of December about the sanctions President Obama had imposed on U.S.-based Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election; and second, work Flynn had done as a consultant for Turkey and for which he had been paid handsomely, but which he did not report as he was required to do by law under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The fact that lying to the FBI on these two matters was the only offense for which Flynn was held accountable in the sentencing document effectively demolishes the theory about Trump Russia collusion that Seth Abramson has been developing for a year now. According to Abramson’s theory, Flynn was central — even the key figure — in a very complicated scheme of Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
Abramson tried to minimize the damage that the sentencing memo had wrought on his grand unified theory of Trump campaign collusion on the grounds that Mueller had no motive to recite any other misdeeds of Flynn in the sentencing memo — implying, then, that Mueller does have damaging information about Flynn’s central role in Trump Russia collusion that he chose not to disclose in the sentencing memo.
This is untenable. Although a prosecutor is free, if he so chooses, to make the most persuasive argument that he can muster to support a minimal or even waived sentence, he is nevertheless obligated in the sentencing memo to include any wrongdoing that the judge would have to consider to reach his or her own decision about the sentencing. In principle, it is possible that the redacted portions of the sentencing document mention other kinds of wrongdoing by Flynn that are not found in the unredacted portions, but that is extremely unlikely. It is unusual, as Mueller has done, for prosecutors to move to the sentencing phase before the termination of an investigation, and it would be well beyond unusual for Mueller to have moved to the sentencing of Flynn now if Mueller did know of other misdeeds committed by Flynn other than the single offense that is disclosed in the sentencing memo.
In effect, the sentencing memo tells us that Mueller believes that Flynn incurred fairly minimal criminal liability, but that he was nevertheless an invaluable witness on matters of great interest to the investigation. Flynn was, as the saying goes, “in the room” when events that are of of interest to Mueller occurred.
The fourth and final point is that Flynn’s sentencing memo makes it very likely that Kushner is a target of the Mueller probe.
The most compelling reason for thinking so lies in the second takeaway mentioned above: Flynn’s testimony to Mueller and the grand jury about contacts between the Trump transition team and Russian officials. This implicates Kushner with near absolute certainty, because we know that Kushner was the the “very senior member” of the transition team who was cited in Mueller’s Dec 1 Statement of Offense (“SOF”) as having directed Flynn to communicate with foreign government officials about a United Nations resolution opposing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In response to that directive, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak, among others.
It is striking how much Flynn’s sentencing document is focused on Flynn’s engagement in Middle East matters. This tracks with what we know about Flynn from other sources and for other reasons.
Just as Jeff Sessions’ focus was on immigration and turning back the clock on civil rights, and Manafort’s focus was on media strategy and getting Russian assistance to sway the election to Trump, Flynn’s primary (perhaps even exclusive) interest has been on the Middle East. We also know that very early on Trump designated Kushner as his point man for all matters concerning the Middle East. This explains the the very close working relationship that developed between Kushner and Flynn.
Besides the U.N. resolution mentioned above, two other examples show how Flynn could have provided Mueller with invaluable assistance as a witness in such matters.
Kushner and Flynn secretly met with Ambassador Kislyak in Trump Tower on December 1, 2016. At that meeting, Kushner proposed using an electronically secure room in the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. as a back channel for communication between the Trump transition team and the Russian government. (!) According to Kushner, the back channel was to be used to avoid U.S. intelligence surveillance of negotiations with the Kremlin over the conflict in Syria. Kushner has testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about that meeting, and Kushner is surely in deep trouble if his testimony diverges in any significant way from Flynn’s account of the meeting. (Flynn has provided Mueller with “documents and communications” to back up his testimonies, and Mueller has found his testimony to be truthful.)
Kushner also led the effort to develop a grand coalition of Arab countries to defeat Iran and Syria under the leadership of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Flynn was in a position to provide Mueller with invaluable testimony about those negotiations as well.
Kushner’s important role during the transition and in the Trump Administration as an important player on Middle East issues needs to be kept in mind in order to appreciate how he might figure in the Mueller investigations.
Rod Rosenstein’s order dated May 17, 2017, which established Mueller as special counsel, charged Mueller with a number of responsibilities, principally: (1) to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” (2) to investigate ”any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”; and (3) to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
These charges might be very closely related — they might even prove to have identical outcomes — but not necessarily. Yesterday’s sentencing memo of Michael Flynn suggests at least the possibility that in the Mueller investigation the second and third could have become separated to a significant degree from the first.
The Flynn sentencing memo tells us that Flynn “provided substantial assistance in a criminal investigation.” We are told absolutely nothing about that criminal investigation, since that section of the memo is totally redacted.
This raises an intriguing question: could that criminal investigation involve potentially unlawful contacts by the Trump campaign with countries (possibly including Russia, but maybe not, and in any case not exclusively) on Middle East issues for which Flynn could provide invaluable information to the government as Trump’s national security advisor, especially because Flynn had a special interest as national security advisor in the Middle East? If so, that criminal investigation might involve matters falling under the third prong of the Rosenstein memo. It could even fall under the second prong, since part of Kushner’s plan for a grand bargain in the Middle East included trying to get Russia to buy into the plan.
Consider also the first prong of the Rosenstein letter, charging Mueller to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
So far public attention on Russian election interference and possible collusion and coordination by the Trump campaign with it has focused on individuals like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — and for good reason. But particularly in the later stages of the campaign, after Manafort had been fired, Kushner emerges as a person of interest in this connection as well.
After Manafort’s departure, the campaign’s messaging operation moved from Trump Tower in New York, where it had been handled by Manafort , Gates, and others, to San Antonio, where a highly digitally oriented messaging operation was established. Brad Parscale, who was the manager in San Antonio, has credited Kushner with making the project successful. Parscale has even called Kushner a “genius,” which is very odd, because Kushner clearly isn’t a genius, and certainly not a digital or computer genius: he owns and uses smartphones and an Apple computer with what are apparently only mediocre computer skills. Those experienced in digital operations have said that no one with Kushner’s lack of experience in the field could possibly have developed such a large and hugely effective operation alone. We also know that Cambridge Analytica and Facebook digital gurus worked on the digital operations project in San Antonio. (The name for the data gathering part of the operation, Project Alamo, was given to it by Cambridge Analytica.)
Although Kellyanne Conway was appointed Trump’s campaign manager after Manafort’s forced resignation, it was unquestionably Kushner who took over the media management responsibilities of the campaign after Manafort’s departure. This could be significant with respect to Flynn’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation, because we know that Mueller has been investigating the involvement of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica in the Trump campaign. There is also reason to believe that Mueller has specifically questioned Kushner’s involvement in the San Antonio operation. That, at least, is a question that naturally arises from a remark that Brad Parscale once made about Kushner. He acknowledged that questions had been raised (he didn’t say when or how or by whom) about Kushner’s possible collusion with the Russians. About this allegation Parscale said only “I just can’t believe it.” Maybe Parscale had been discomfited to find that the Mueller team that visited San Antonio and questioned him had led him to think that Kushner might have become a subject of the Mueller investigation. Flynn, who had a very close working relationship with Kushner during the campaign and the transition, could have provided invaluable information to Mueller about the San Antonio operation, Facebook, and Cambridge Analytica.
Mueller has run his investigation by the book, leaking nothing and holding his cards close to his chest. True to form, yesterday’s highly redacted Flynn sentencing memo has raised even more questions than it has answered. There is much that we still do not know, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to reach the conclusion that Flynn’s sentencing memo must have been very concerning — even alarming — to Jared Kushner in particular.