Following President Donald Trump’s 2016 election win, soon-to-be White House senior adviser Jared Kushner attempted to set up back channel communication with Russia and met with the head of Russian bank Vnesheconombank, known as VEB, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.
Kushner and VEB offered conflicting explanations for that meeting, leading to speculation over whether Trump’s son-in-law was possibly discussing a business deal, sanctions, or both.
A relatively new witness might have information that sheds more light on Trump associates’ attempts to strike business deals with Russia even after the election ended.
Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) is in possession of a letter making explosive claims regarding former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and his Russian contacts after Trump's win — including an allegation that Papadopoulos was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.”
The letter, dated November 19 and obtained last week by The Atlantic, was sent to Democratic Representative Adam Schiff’s office by an individual who claims to have been close to Papadopoulos in late 2016 and early 2017. The letter was brought to the attention of Schiff and House Intelligence Committee staff, according to an aide who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The letter was also obtained by federal authorities, who are taking its claims “very seriously,” said two U.S. officials who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivities of the probe.
The statement makes a series of explosive but uncorroborated claims about Papadopoulos’s alleged coordination with Russians in the weeks following Trump’s election in November 2016, including that Papadopoulos said he was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.” The confidant—whose name The Atlantic is withholding on request but whose identity is known to congressional and federal investigators—stated a willingness to take a polygraph test “to prove that I am being truthful” and had come forward now after seeing Papadopoulos “become increasingly hostile towards those who are investigating him and his associates.” A lawyer for Papadopoulos declined to comment.
The former Trump campaign adviser recently finished a 12-day stint in prison for lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts during the election, including “the timing, extent, and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.”
But if the claims in the letter are proved true, Papadopoulos could remain in legal jeopardy.
The claims would also further substantiate the notion that Trump and his associates remained open and eager to establish backdoor deals with Russia well after the country was found to have interfered in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, tried to set up a “back channel” to Russia in the weeks after the election and met with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank during the transition period.
The Washington Post reported in June 2017 that the White House’s explanation for the meeting — that it was “one of many diplomatic encounters” Kushner had prior to Trump’s inauguration — is at odds with the bank’s explanation.
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 contradiction is deepening confusion over Kushner’s interactions with the Russians as the president’s son-in-law emerges as a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Moscow and the Trump team.
The discrepancy has thrust Vnesheconombank, known for advancing the strategic interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin and for its role in a past U.S. espionage case, into the center of the controversy enveloping the White House.
Whether or not the witness’s letter to Schiff can shed light on the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia post-election remains to be seen, as does the possibility of Papadopoulos being called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, told The Atlantic that “at the appropriate time,” the congressman hopes to get “full answers on the range” of Papadopoulos’s “contacts with the Russians and their intermediaries.” Boland said that Schiff and his staff “evaluate all information brought to our attention and remain concerned about the conduct that formed the basis of Mr. Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, as well as his subsequent and apparently contradictory statements.”
It also remains to be seen whether this new information will shed light on the activity of Kushner in the weeks following Trump’s election.