Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Navy

Why Is Robert Mueller Probing Jared Kushner's Finances?

A Washington Post report Thursday left unclear whether the special counsel’s inquiry represents a cursory check or something more serious for the president’s son-in-law.

Jared Kushner’s business endeavors in the dog-eat-dog world of New York City real estate helped endear him to his father-in-law, President Trump. Now those complex dealings are reportedly under scrutiny by federal investigators as part of the sprawling Russia investigation.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is probing “finance and business dealings” by Kushner, former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as part of its broader investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. All three men have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and Trump himself has castigated the investigation as a “witch hunt” concocted by political opponents to delegitimize his electoral victory.

Jamie Gorelick, Kushner’s private attorney, downplayed the news in a statement to the Post. “It would be standard practice for the Special Counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia,” she said. “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about Russia-related matters. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.” 

The Post did not offer details on which business deals of Kushner’s had drawn investigators’ attention. Its account noted that previous reports had said federal agents were looking into his December meeting with Sergey Gorkov, an influential Russian banker and the chairman of state-owned Vnesheconombank, the country’s largest bank. The Post also did not indicate whether the inquiry was part of a routine examination of Kushner’s finances or if reflected something more serious on Mueller’s part.

Flynn, Kushner, and Manafort were already under varying levels of scrutiny by federal investigators. Within days of his appointment as special counsel, Mueller assumed control of a federal grand-jury probe in eastern Virginia looking into Flynn’s lobbying relationships on behalf of Turkish officials as well as a long-running Justice Department investigation into Manafort’s business relationships with Ukrainian political parties aligned with Moscow. His command of both inquiries could give Mueller powerful leverage in the broader Russia investigation if either probe gathers enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.

In addition, media reports last month indicated FBI agents were scrutinizing Kushner’s private conversation with Sergey Kislyak, the ubiquitous Russian ambassador whose encounters with Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions created serious headaches for the Trump administration. Flynn resigned in February for lying about his conversations with Kislyak after the election; Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after his meetings with the ambassador became public knowledge.

According to the Post’s account last month, Kushner asked Kislyak about the possibility of using secure Russian communications facilities to establish a backchannel between the White House and Moscow during a December meeting at Trump Tower. The highly unusual request drew stunned reactions from veteran national-security officials across the political spectrum when it was revealed last month. High-level communications with foreign powers are typically handled by the American diplomatic and intelligence apparatus for security reasons.

The account last month underscored Kushner’s unusual role in the Trump White House. Part crown prince and part minister without portfolio, the president’s son-in-law has taken on a broad range of issues within the turbulent free-for-all of Trump’s inner circle. Those responsibilities range from Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to modernizing and streamlining the vast federal bureaucracy. His influence reportedly waned in recent weeks as news of federal investigators’ scrutiny became public, leading to friction between him and the president he advises.

Kushner also reportedly faced some backlash for being among the top internal advocates for firing former FBI Director James Comey last month. Trump’s sudden ouster of Comey triggered a substantial political firestorm against the president and eventually led to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, thereby placing the Russia investigation even further from Trump’s direct influence. Whether the latest news about Kushner’s deepening entanglement in the investigation also moves him further from directly influencing his father-in-law remains to be seen.