Will daddy Donald sack his son-in-law?
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With on-going investigations into Russian links to Trumps election campaign, will his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be the first of Trump's family to be charged. PAUL CONNEW reports.
It looks like being a far from cushy 2018 for Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser.
Kushner appears destined to become the first member of the President's family to be charged by special prosecutor Robert Mueller's 'Russian Connection' investigation and an arrest could come early in the new year.
But it seems increasingly possible Ivanka Trump's 36-year-old 'political ingenue' husband might well be banished from the White House before the Mueller team move to indict him.
Several of the lawyers hired by President Trump to advise him over the Mueller probe are again urging him to sack Kushner or at least persuade his son-in-law to step down 'with dignity' from his controversial White House role.
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It's a view privately shared by the President's chief of staff, retired four-star General John Kelly felt obliged to deny in a Thanksgiving holiday week interview he wants Kushner out. The denial fooled no one familiar with the internal strife increasingly engulfing the Trump White House against the backdrop of the escalating Mueller investigation and various Congressional inquiries into the issue.
The pressure on both the President and Kushner was ratcheted up considerably this week with the revelation that lawyers for General Mike Flynn, Trump's high profile campaign confidant and former national security adviser, have informed the President's legal team they can no longer liaise with them over the Mueller investigation.
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That is being taken as a sure sign that Mueller' strategy of 'flipping' the right-wing general into co-operating fully in return for some form of plea bargain deal on behalf of himself and his son, Michael junior has paid off.
Flynn and Kushner are inextricably connected on several fronts to issues at the very heart of former FBI director Mueller's 'Russian Connection' investigation into interference in last year's presidential election campaign and various business links between members of Trump's campaign inner circle and shady Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin, Russian cyber operations and President Putin personally.
Among the interactions Mueller's high-powered investigation team are exploring is a private meeting Flynn and Kushner held with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at New York's Trump Tower during the transition between Donald Trump's election victory and him taking office.
Although officially a diplomat not an intelligence operative, Kislyak is a recurring figure in Mueller's inquiries and western Kremlin experts have little doubt he would have been at least au fait with Russia's cyber-hacking and sinister social media activities aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton and boosting Trump's bid for the White House.
Kushner and Flynn are also connected to Cambridge Analytica, the controversial mass data-mining company under scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic over its role in the US presidential election and the EU Referendum campaign.
Flynn worked for Cambridge Analytica for a time and was close to its billionaire ultra-conservative owner Robert Mercer, a major investor in alt-right website Breitbart News and its eminence grise Steve Bannon, Trump's election campaign mastermind and former White House strategy chief now back in favour with POTUS.
While it was Kushner who was the key figure in appointing Cambridge Analytica to take over the campaign's digital operations in June 2016, a move also approved by Bannon, himself a former vice-president of Cambridge Analytica right up to the moment he joined the Trump election team.
Quite apart from the Mueller investigation, Cambridge Analytica — which strongly denies any wrongdoing or links to Russian election meddling – is also the focus of a separate Congressional investigation into Russian cyber interference during the campaign and how they were able to craft such a micro-targeted social media campaign. Last year Cambridge Analytica's CEO boasted they had 'somewhere close to' 4-5,000 data points on every adult in the US.
It begs the question whether Russia's sinister cyber operators were passed priceless profiles of individual American voters in key states by US experts and who were then bombarded on social media with fake news and targeted ads damaging Clinton and bolstering Trump. And if so, by who?
Meanwhile sources close to the Mueller team suggest that Robert Mercer, Kushner and Bannon will all be quizzed early next year, and that Nigel Farage and UKIP bankroller Arron Banks, could also be interviewed as US investigators increasingly liaise with European intelligence services over the explosive issue of Russian cyber dirty tricks more widely.
But Jared Kushner's problems run much wider still. Both Mueller and Congressional investigators are digging deeper into the infamous June 9 2016 Trump Tower meeting brokered by Donald Trump junior to hear Russian 'dirt' on Clinton and which Kushner attended, along with Trump's now-charged former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
Then there's the little matter of Kushner's transitional meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak to discuss setting up a 'back channel' between the Trump team and the Kremlin. It would have involved Team Trump using Russian diplomatic posts to communicate with Moscow, a method whose main effect would have been to elude any US intelligence monitoring of the communications.
In addition, Ambassador Kislyak obligingly set up a secret meeting for young Kushner in December last year with the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state institution closely associated with President Putin himself.
That's becoming particularly significant to investigators for a couple of reasons. It was highly unusual for a Trump official in a transitional team to be meeting secretly with an arm of the Russian government. But, beyond that, two different versions of the meeting have now emerged. According to a belated admission by Kushner, he was there in the capacity of an adviser to President-elect Trump. But, according to Russian sources, he wanted to meet the bank in connection with the Kushner family's troubled real-estate business. Intriguingly, the Kushner companies are desperately seeking foreign investment to defray a huge $1.2billion debt on its flagship New York property, 666 Fifth Avenue.
Other sources claim that earlier Kushner was also pivotal in persuading his father-in-law not to fire Flynn even after acting attorney general Sally Yates alerted the White House to the FBI's evidence about Flynn's illicit secret Russian contacts. Instead Yates herself got fired and the general only finally got his marching orders after the facts were leaked to the media.
As one former senior member of the Trump White House put it privately: 'If General Flynn is now singing like a canary, then Jared Kushner's in deep trouble and so is the President if he stands by him. Flynn has the inside track on so much damaging material.
'The President's best bet might well be to throw Jared under the bus and argue that he, and others in the campaign team, were up to things that The Donald knew nothing about and wouldn't have approved of.'