Saturday, May 27, 2017

Getting Closer: Evaluating Yesterday's Tales of Kushner

Friday evening was awash in revelations and tales of Kushner.  Late Friday and Saturday brought evaluations.

First, to highlight again a paragraph from last night's Reuters story that I added as a late update to last evening's post:

"FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official."

This was highlighted on Lawrence O'Donnell, where the Atlantic's David Frum speculated on the possibility that the family empire owes money to Russian banks, and that's part of this relationship.

It was also pointed out that the term most bandied about--"back channel" contact--was inaccurate in a practical sense.  A back channel contact is usually between lower level representatives (sometimes not officials at all but business execs or journalists) reporting to higher levels.  In this case, Kushner (who would soon be one of the highest level members of the White House staff) was seeking direct but secret contact with the Kremlin, or high level officials that might include Putin.

Today Atlantic has a story by Adam Serwer, with these paragraphs:

Communicating with Moscow using Russian facilities could have shielded Kushner’s correspondence from U.S. intelligence agencies, without denying their Russian counterparts the same access.

“The only reason you would operate that way is if you were hiding something from your own government. That's it. That's the only plausible explanation," said Nada Bakos, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former CIA analyst.

Commenting on part of the Times story that said the back channel was to discuss Syria, Jon Finer, a former US State Department aide to John Kerry, was skeptical. Discussing Syria "just doesn't seem tremendously credible or urgent on the timelines they were seeking to operate,” said Finer. “It begs the question of what this was all about. Until we know that, we don't know if this is a bombshell, or just people who didn't know what they were doing."

On the question of the inexperienced Kushner not knowing what he was doing, several pundits noted that the very experienced Michael Flynn was also present when the proposal was made.  At least one also noted that Flynn was a known skeptic of American intelligence agencies.

In terms of an overall evaluation, the piece ends: “Collusion between the campaign and the Russian government would obviously be devastating for the administration,” Finer said. “But you don't need to get anywhere near that far to be disturbed by what's been revealed already—unprecedented and unexplained contacts between an adversarial government meddling in our election and people in ever-closer proximity to the president himself, after denials that proved false and alibis that don't make sense.”

Apropos of that notion, Byron Wolf's commentary at CNN was headlined: It's getting harder to say Russian meddling didn't actually help lead to Trump's victory and Clinton's loss.

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