Saturday, June 17, 2017

Returning to the Kushner Meeting (If Anyone Remembers)

And in case anyone is still thinking about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, it explains a lot, but one thing we still don't know is what they wanted to convey that was so sensitive that Kushner was prepared to send it from the Russian embassy over secure lines.

But there are some pretty educated guesses out there.  The main one is that it focused on what the Russians clearly want the most -- sanctions relief.  That combines with another data point.  About two weeks after the meeting, Kushner  met with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker who fairly clearly operates as an unofficial arm of the Russian state and is at least a former spy.  The Russians claimed the meeting was not political at all but strictly about Kushner's real estate business, while the Trump Administration said it the meeting was not about business at all, but a general diplomatic meeting.  The suspicion, then, is that the meeting was about both -- about getting finance for Kushner's troubled real estate empire in exchange for sanctions relief.

The discussions need not be expressed as quite so crude a bribe.  They may have discussed sanctions, the difficulties the sanctions were causing, potential sources of funding for Kushner, obstacles to such funding, the problems the sanctions were causing the bank, etc.  No quid pro quo need have been mentioned.  A quid pro quo could clearly have been implied.

Another straw in the wind.  All those reports that Trump's campaign was a garbage fire were false.  Granted, Trump himself was an utterly incompetent manager.  But quietly behind the scenes Jared Kushner was running the most sophisticated data analysis every used by any campaign in history. While Trump and his visible campaign were flailing about, Kushner was quietly analyzing date, micro-targeting messages, and manipulating the electorate with a hitherto unimagined skill.  His utterly un-tech father-in-law presumably knew nothing about it other than that Jared was running some sort fancy computer work for his campaign.  Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer is known to fund both the program and Breitbart News.

The current assumption is that if there was any collusion (a matter that remains speculation), it was probably there.  If there was collusion, it would have consisted of Kushner's data analysis operation making use of materials provided by Russian hacks.  Such use could have been either knowing or unknowing.

Consider the implications here.  If this is true, then the Big Four -- Paul Manfort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn -- were all secondary players.  The real, player all along was really Jared Kushner.  The Big Four are all now out of the Trump Administration, but Kushner is the one person (other than Pence or Ivanka) that there is no way to get rid of.*

This is still speculation, but a number of things make a lot more sense now than they did.

First of all, it never seemed plausible that Trump was part of any sort of conspiracy.  The man couldn't keep his mouth shut if you sutured it!**  On the other hand, his often shady objectives and lax management style are a virtual invitation to his subordinates to engage in criminal activity and a promise to look the other way.  If Kushner was engaged in collusion, Flynn or one of the other Four might have served as a go-between.  And Trump may have been unaware of such collusion and be unaware to this day.  But his subordinates would presumably make him aware if they were in trouble.

It also explains his eagerness to protect Flynn.  Up till now, I have heard three possible explanations floated.  One was that Trump was being loyal to a friend.  That was what got Nixon into trouble covering up Watergate, but it seemed unlikely in the case of Trump.  Trump no doubt sees loyalty as the supreme virtue, but he also sees it as a one-way street -- something other people owe him, but that he does not owe anyone else.  So it seemed unlikely that he was protecting Flynn out of loyalty.  Another was fear that Flynn would spill the beans on him.  Most people on my side believed that explanation, but I was always skeptical.  I knew of nothing to indicate that Trump ever had the concept that he might do anything wrong, or that anything at all could get him into trouble.  So, applying Trump's Razor (the stupidest explanation is usually the right one), I could only assume that Trump had just taken an inexplicable liking for Flynn and was willing to stick out his neck for him.

But if Kushner and Flynn were co-conspirators, that would explain it much better.  Trump was afraid of Flynn spilling the beans, not on him, but on Jared.  Because Trump is not absolutely devoid of loyalty -- he has it toward his children.  Whether he thinks of Kushner as an honorary son, a cherished belonging of his beloved Ivanka, or simply an indispensable right-hand man, his zeal to protect Flynn makes sense if it is really a zeal to protect Jared.

Has Jared done anything that could expose him to prosecution?  I am not an expert in that field of law.

Congress is pushing for legislation forbidding the President from unilaterally lifting sanctions against Russia.  But such legislation is not in force yet and certainly was not in force at the time of the meetings.  As such, the President had/has considerable discretion to lift sanctions.  And there are virtually no restrictions on the President's (or his surrogates') authority to conduct diplomacy, short of entering into an actual treaty.  And I honestly don't know the law on foreign bribery.  Is it a bribe if you stand to benefit from something perfectly legal?  It should at least violate conflict of interest law.  But conflict of interest applies to actual government employees, and Kushner did not work for the government at the time.  And if Jared did use hacked Russian data in his analysis, I do not know whether the use of purloined data is a crime.  And if it is, the Russians could easily have laundered it in such a way as to give Kushner plausible deniability.

However, there is at least one crime that Kushner can clearly be charged with.  Failure to disclose foreign contacts on an application for security clearance is a federal crime carrying a sentence up to five years.  Kushner failed to disclose his Russian contacts.  He claims that it was an innocent oversight.  If it can be proven there was serious conspiring that the meetings, even if the conspiring was not technically a crime, then the claim that it was an innocent oversight becomes really hard to maintain.

Granted, if these suspicions about Kushner are true, prosecuting him for non-disclosure is sort of like prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion.  But hey, it worked.

And at least we can rest assured that whatever else Kushner may have done, at least he never sent State Department e-mails on a private server.

*Honestly, this is starting to feel like one of those whodunnit mysteries, or something like The Godfather.  In all the treachery and intrigue swirling around the patriarch, who is colluding with a hostile power?  Manfort, Page, Stone and Flynn all seem to be involved, but the sinister going's on continue even after all are purged.  Bannon looks like the sinister genius while Ivanka and Jared seem to be the stabilizing and moderating influence.  But in the end -- tum tum tah! -- Bannon turns out to be an abrasive but innocent party warning of the danger, while Jared is unveiled at the end as the true villain.
**Now, maybe if you also handcuffed him. . . . 

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