In what is emerging as the latest headache for Donald Trump, a state-run Russian bank which has been under U.S. economic sanctions since 2014 disclosed on Monday that its executives had met Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and key policy adviser, during the 2016 election campaign. As reported previously, Kushner has been asked to discuss the contact, and a meeting during the same period with the Russian ambassador, with a Senate committee probing Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Executives of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) had talks with Kushner during a bank roadshow in 2016 when it was preparing a new strategy, the bank said as reported by Reuters. "As part of the preparation of the new strategy, executives of Vnesheconombank met with representatives of leading financial institutes in Europe, Asia and America multiple times during 2016," VEB said in an emailed statement.
It said roadshow meetings took place "with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the United States, including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies."
VEB declined to say where the meetings took place or the dates. U.S. officials said that after meeting with Russian Kislyak at Trump Tower last December, a meeting also attended by Flynn, Kushner met later in December with Sergei Gorkov, the CEO of Vnesheconombank. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed the meetings.
That said, simply meeting with representatives of a U.S.-sanctioned entity is not a violation of sanctions or against the law, although we doubt the media will focus on that nuance.
A bigger circumstantial problem may be that Evgeny Buryakov, 41, a Russian citizen who worked at Vnesheconombank and whom U.S. authorities accused of posing as a banker while participating in a New York spy ring, pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge on Friday. Buryakov admitted in federal court in Manhattan to acting as an agent for the Russian government without notifying U.S. authorities. He was sentenced to 30 months in US prison.
Additionally, Gorkov, the bank’s chairman, graduated in 1994 from the Academy of the Federal Security Service of Russia, the Russian school for intelligence officials, i.e., spies. He later worked for the now-defunct Russian oil giant Yukos and state-controlled Sberbank before taking the top job at VEB. As the WSJ reminds us, the plunge in oil prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis had pushed the bank into financial trouble, forcing the Russian government to undertake a bailout.
The White House said Kushner was simply doing his job by holding this meeting, although Obama sanctioned the bank in 2014 after the Ukraine coup and subsequent hostilities with Russia, and contacts with Russia have landed other Trump associates in hot water.
Earlier on Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that Kushner is willing to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by U.S. Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican. “Throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials ... and so, given this role, he volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr's committee, but has not received any confirmation regarding a time for a meeting," Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate panel also said Kushner had agreed to be interviewed.
Allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian actors were behind hacking of senior Democratic Party operatives and spreading disinformation linger over Trump's young presidency. Democrats charge the Russians wanted to tilt the election toward the Republican, a claim dismissed by Trump. Russia denies the allegations.