The conversation between Jared Kushner and the ambassador took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time.
WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.
The conversation between Kushner and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time. Also present at the meeting was Michael Flynn, the retired general who would become Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, the three people said.
It is unclear who first proposed the communications channel, but the people familiar with the meeting said that the idea was to have Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues. The communications channel was never set up, the people said.
The three people were not authorized to discuss the December meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.
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News of the discussion was first reported by The Washington Post. The revelation has stoked new questions about Kushner’s connections to Russian officials at a time the FBI is investigating Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential election and whether any of Trump’s advisers assisted in the Russian campaign.
Current and former U.S. officials said that Kushner’s activities, like those of many others around Trump, are under scrutiny as part of the investigation. But Kushner is not currently the subject of a criminal investigation.
In the days after the meeting with Kislyak, Kushner had a separate meeting with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. intelligence agencies first learned about the discussion several months ago, according to a senior U.S. official who had been briefed on intelligence reports. It is unclear whether they learned from intercepted Russian communications or other means.
Trump came into office promising improved relations with Russia on numerous issues, including greater cooperation to try to end the civil war in Syria. During the presidential campaign, he frequently criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy as unnecessarily antagonistic toward Russia.
The idea behind the secret communications channel, the three people said, was for Russian military officials to brief Flynn about the Syrian war and to discuss ways to cooperate there. Less than two weeks later, Kushner backed off the idea of the communications channel when Trump announced Rex Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil who had worked closely with Russian officials on energy deals, as his choice to become secretary of state.
Two congressional intelligence committees are conducting parallel investigations into Russian interference during the presidential campaign, and in recent weeks the committees have accelerated their efforts to obtain documents from Trump’s campaign advisers, sometimes using subpoenas to demand the records.
This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the Trump campaign’s treasurer to preserve and produce all documents — including phone records and emails — dating back to its official start in June 2015, according to one person associated with the campaign. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said former staffers had been instructed to cooperate with the committee’s inquiry.
The person said the request came from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee’s two senior members.