Why Did Kushner Seek A Private Channel with Moscow?

The conceivable explanations range from bad to worse.

Things are looking very bad for Jared Kushner, and by extension the entire Trump presidency. Just days after it was discovered that Kushner is a top target of the FBI due to possible financial crimes and ties to Russia, came yesterday’s explosive revelation that the President’s son-in-law requested a secret, secure channel to the Kremlin during the transition period. This request was so extraordinary it alarmed even the Russians, as it would have entailed giving an American access to communications equipment specifically designed to evade American eavesdropping.

The news is bizarre and the move by Kushner so brazen that the worst possible motives seem too stupid for the Keystone Cops, but no innocent or even semi-innocent explanations present themselves.

First, the context: everyone in politics knew that the Kremlin was responsible for the hacks of the DNC and John Podesta. Trump had just won the election in part due to this Russian interference, and anyone with sense knew in the aftermath that anything even tangentially related to Russia would have both negative political and legal consequences. Furthermore, it was just a couple of short months from Trump’s winning the electoral college to formally taking the oath of office in January. If there was a legitimate need for any reason to communicate with Russia absent some international crisis, it could wait until Trump and Kushner were in the White House and could set up any channel with Putin that they pleased.

It was also obvious that almost any conversation with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak would be monitored by the FBI.

So what monumental idiocy, urgent imperative and guilty necessity would drive Jared Kushner to reach out to Kislyak to request a secret back channel to the Kremlin during the transition period? Any aboveboard diplomatic explanation defies belief. Even a theoretically legitimate policy disagreement with the Obama White House would have been a non-starter, as there is only one president at a time, and therefore only one foreign policy at a time. Moreover, there was nothing of such immediate urgency on the international stage to merit Trump advisers even needing to conduct a separate foreign policy to achieve specific goals in the American interest from a conservative point of view. Unlike Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner is known to be an almost liberal, moderate internationalist who wouldn’t have diverged much from the Obama Adminsitration. Anything policy-oriented could easily have waited, and in any case the Trump transition wasn’t exactly shy about countermanding Obama’s foreign policy, anyway.

The motive has to be personal, then.

There are really only two possible explanations: that Kushner needed to arrange personal matters with Russian business partners and/or creditors without anyone but the Kremlin knowing (very bad and likely criminal) or that Kushner needed to arrange some sort of political deal with the Russians without the knowledge of the American intelligence services (potentially treasonous.) Or it could be both.

There simply isn’t any other reasonable explanation.

Which means the White House has a whole lot of explaining to do. Not just the White House, but the entire Trump family, including Donald and Ivanka.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.