President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, met with the CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank in December 2016, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The meeting — which had not previously been disclosed and came on the heels of Kushner’s meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at Trump Tower — recently caught the eye of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether any members of Trump’s campaign were complicit.
Kislyak reportedly orchestrated the meeting between Kushner and Vnesheconombank’s CEO, Sergey N. Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank’s management team, Bloomberg reported last year. Gorkov was the vice-president of Russia’s state-controlled Sberbank before coming on to Vnesheconombank, which Bloomberg characterised as “the bank that financed Vladimir Putin’s grandest ambitions.”
Putin first revamped Vnesheconombank, known as Russia’s bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs, in 2007. The Russian leader turned it into “a pillar of his Kremlin-driven economy at the height of the oil boom” and took “personal control over key lending decisions,” according to Bloomberg.
“When oil prices were high, VEB lent huge sums to politically expedient but financially questionable initiatives such as infrastructure projects for the 2014 Winter Sochi Olympics,” Reuters reported last year.
The bank had huge success between 2007 and 2014, but it all came crashing down when oil prices tanked and President Barack Obama levied sanctions on Kremlin officials and entities over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
By February 2016, the bank, which says its official mission is to “take efforts to make the Russian economy more competitive, diversify it, and foster investment,” was struggling to find enough cash to stay afloat. Its bailout needs had increased to $US16 billion between 2016-2020, Reuters reported.
Kushner’s meeting with Gorkov, the struggling bank’s CEO, came as Kushner was trying to find investors for a Fifth Avenue office building in Manhattan that is set to be heavily financed by Anbang Insurance Group, a firm with ties to the Chinese government. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Times on Monday that the “Kushner Tower” project wasn’t discussed during his meeting with Gorkov.
The meeting did not appear to break any rules, and Hicks said it was “not much of a conversation” so didn’t warrant a disclosure to the rest of the Trump transition team.
But news of the meeting comes less than two months after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was asked to resign for “misleading” Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak. It also comes as the FBI and Congress are trying to determine whether any favours were exchanged between Trump associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has asked to interview Kushner about his meeting with Gorkov, has also requested the cooperation of Carter Page — an early foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Page was accused in a dossier presented by top intelligence officials to Trump in January of travelling to Moscow last July to discuss a deal with the CEO of Russia’s state oil company to lift US sanctions on Russia.
Kushner is the closest person to Trump to be swept up in either the Senate or the House Intelligence Committees’ probes so far.
The FBI is investigating the Russian interference separately from Congress, FBI Director James Comey confirmed last week. The investigation has been examining whether members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russian officials to undermine Hillary Clinton.
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