Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner under pressure over Russia scandal

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, listens during session with cyber security experts at the White House.
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, listens during session with cyber security experts at the White House. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President Donald Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr may be in the media spotlight over his notorious Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Mrs Hillary Clinton.

But the latest revelation in the burgeoning scandal has added to the pressure on another family member who was at the meeting and is already in the crosshairs of investigators - Mr Jared Kushner, the President's influential son-in-law.

Democrats are up in arms, demanding that the 36-year-old - a senior adviser to the President with an office in the White House - be stripped of his security clearance.

"There doesn't seem to be any ethical standard in the White House," Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday (July 13). "Jared Kushner's security clearance must be immediately revoked."

Even some from Mr Trump's Republican Party are not so sure that Mr Kushner - who is married to the President's daughter Ivanka - should remain in the West Wing.

"I'm going out on a limb here - but I would say I think it would be in the President's best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House," Texas Representative Bill Flores told local television on Thursday.

"Not only Donald Trump (Jr), but Ivanka and Jared Kushner."

OMISSIONS ON SECURITY CLEARANCE FORMS

While Mr Trump Jr has no role in his father's administration - instead helping to run his corporate empire - Mr Kushner is one of Mr Trump's closest advisers.

The Harvard graduate is also the progeny of a powerful New York real estate family and has long been in Mr Trump's inner circle.

It was actually an omission on a government security clearance application filed by Mr Kushner that led to the revelation of the meeting between himself, Mr Trump Jr, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Russian lawyer.

It also led Mr Trump Jr to release an e-mail chain about the planning of that meeting - which is now being cited as the most serious evidence yet of alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

In the June 2016 e-mails, Mr Trump Jr eagerly agrees to a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer, who is said to possess incriminating information about Mrs Clinton, and invites Mr Kushner and Mr Manafort to come along.

Mr Kushner, filing a security clearance document known as an SF-86, initially neglected to mention that he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - as well as contacts he had with several other Russians, including Moscow's ambassador to the US, Mr Sergey Kislyak.

The meeting with Ms Veselnitskaya came to light only after Mr Kushner filed an amended SF-86 form.

Ms Veselnitskaya confirmed to CNN and MSNBC that Mr Kushner attended the meeting, but said he was there for only "seven to 10 minutes" and she had never intended to hand over damaging information about Mrs Clinton anyway.

RUSSIA TIES UNDER MICROSCOPE

But even before revelations of the Veselnitskaya meeting came to light, Mr Kushner's other dealings with Russian officials have been facing scrutiny.

According to The Washington Post, Mr Kushner - at a December 2016 meeting with Mr Kislyak - raised the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications link between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.

That same month, Mr Kushner also met Mr Sergey Gorkov, chief of Vnesheconombank and a former member of Russian intelligence. The bank, a key arm of the Russian government, is under tough US sanctions.

The Post reported last month that Mr Kushner's finances and business dealings were being examined as part of the probe led by special counsel and former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign teamed with Russia to help tilt the presidential race in favour of the billionaire tycoon.

And this week, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that congressional and Justice Department investigators were looking into whether the Trump campaign helped Russian cyber operatives bombard key voting districts with "fake news" about Mrs Clinton.

Mr Kushner, who was in charge of the Trump campaign's digital operations, now plays a major role in shaping US foreign policy.

"WITCH HUNT"?

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a massive effort to swing the election to Mr Trump, including hacking and leaking embarrassing e-mails from Democrats.

Mr Trump has vehemently denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia and repeatedly claimed to be the victim of a "witch hunt" by the media and sore loser Democrats.

Mr Kushner is expected to discuss his Russian contacts at some point with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading one of the several probes into Russian election interference.

But ahead of that testimony - and with unanswered questions mounting around him - opposition Democrats are demanding action now.

"It is unclear why Mr Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated," said a letter from nearly 20 members of the House Oversight Committee sent to the White House in June.