Questions about the relationship between the Trump administration and Russia continue to swirl ahead of a closed-door session at the House Intelligence Committee. On Monday, newspapers reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee will interview Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, over meetings he took after the election with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and a prominent Russian banker, Sergei Gorkov.
Kushner met with Kislyak he was a member of the Trump transition team and still a private citizen. After that meeting, which took place in early December, Kislyak requested a second, to which Kushner sent a deputy, to whom Kislyak conveyed he wanted Kushner and Gorkov to meet. Kushner and Gorkov met at a later date.
Gorkov is the head of the Moscow-based Vnesheconombank, a government owned development bank that is sanctioned by the United States for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Vnesheconombank describes itself as funding “major investment projects” — like Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, the 2014 Sochi Olympics — and “provid[ing] support” for Russian enterprises.
It is also the bank at which Evgeny Buryakov worked under “non-official cover” as a banker while actually working for Russian intelligence (the U.S. attorney who announced he pled guilty back in March 2016 was Preet Bharara, whom the White House fired earlier this month).
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, whose recently exposed alleged corruption was the impetus for massive protests across Russia on Sunday, sits on the bank’s supervisory board.
Previously, Gorkov was the deputy chairman of the executive board of Sberbank, Russia’s largest state bank, most recently in the news for hiring Trump’s longtime lawyer to defend it in court. Gorkov graduated from Russia’s Academy of the Federal Security Service — that is, of the FSB — in 1994, and is also a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland, second class.
White House spokesperson Hope Hicks told the New York Times that the meeting, which lasted 30 minutes, “really wasn’t much of a conversation,” but that Gorkov communicated his interest in maintaining an open dialogue.
“Mr. Kushner will certainly not be the last person the committee calls to give testimony, but we expect him to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chair of the same committee, said in a statement.
Indeed, Kushner is not the only current or former member of the Trump team to face an interview from Congress. Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, as well as former advisors Carter Page and Roger Stone, have all said they would testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
But that committee is itself in the crosshairs. The chair of the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes (R.-Calif.), said Monday that he went to the White House last week just before he held a controversial news conference to reveal that Trump associates had been caught up in incidental intelligence collection, fueling speculation that the White House may have fed him that information. Last Friday, Nunes cancelled an open hearing scheduled for Tuesday, replacing it with a closed hearing in which FBI chief James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers will testify again.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) has called for an independent investigation. Some other committee members are more forceful — Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D.-N.J.) said on Thursday that Nunes, himself a former member of the Trump transition team, should step down.
“It’s clear that Chairman Nunes, a member of the Trump transition, is still playing for the president’s team at the expense of properly performing his job,” he said.
On Monday evening, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issued a statement saying he, too, felt Nunes should recuse himself. “After much consideration, and in light of the Chairman’s admission that he met with his source of information at the White House, I believe that the Chairman should recuse himself from any further involvement in the Russia investigation, as well as any involvement in oversight of matters pertaining to any incidental collection of the Trump transition, as he was also a key member of the transition team,” the statement read.
Nunes said he would not recuse himself, as “everything is politics here.”
The White House also weighed in, in its way. At a briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not say with whom Nunes met with or from where he got his sources, and referred those who asked back to Nunes’s public comments. Asked if Nunes’s sources could have come from within the White House, Spicer said, “anything is possible.”