The FBI’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections continues to rumble on despite the fact that the organization doesn’t yet have a new director after President Donald Trump chose to unceremoniously dispense with former FBI Director James Comey. The latest news surrounding the investigation concerns the roles that senior White House advisor Jared Kushner played during the Trump campaign and on the president’s transition team.
As of yet, there is nothing to indicate that the FBI suspects Kushner, who also happens to be President Trump’s son-in-law, of committing any crimes and he is not currently a target of the investigation. That being said, the FBI is still interested in knowing more about the role he played in setting up and overseeing the Trump campaign’s data analytics and data targeting operations. In addition, there are also questions about Kushner’s contacts with various Russians during the campaign and transition, as well as the extent of the relationship he had with now-disgraced former national security advisor Gen. Michael Flynn.
For his part, Kushner seems unaware of the FBI’s interest—although his lawyer released a statement saying that he would be willing to speak with the FBI and provide whatever information they required, just as he also volunteered to do the same for Congress.
Kushner’s Alleged Russia Connections
Part of the reason that the FBI is interested in Kushner is that he was primarily responsible for directing President Trump’s foreign policy efforts during the transition. It was at this time that sources claim that Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump began pushing heavily for Gen. Flynn to be named as national security advisor, although this is a charge that sources close to the couple deny.
Still, the bigger issue seems to relate to meetings that Kushner held during the transition with the Russian ambassador to the US and the head of a Russian bank. Some have suggested that these meetings involved discussing lifting the sanctions on Russia, which is exactly what got Gen. Flynn into hot water. However, Kushner and the rest of the Trump team claim that these meetings were simply an attempt to open a backdoor channel between the Trump team and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Either way, the FBI is extremely interested in learning more about exactly what was discussed during these meetings.
Data Analytics and Russia’s Hacking Efforts
As part of its probe, the FBI has collected evidence relating to bots and other programs that Russia allegedly used to help influence the outcome of the election. These bots were apparently used to identify and target specific groups of people and then use Facebook and other social media to target them with negative stories about Hillary Clinton and positive stories about Donald Trump. It has since come out that many of the Clinton stories were fake, which is where the entire ‘fake news’ scandal originated.
The reason that this relates to Kushner is that he oversaw the Trump campaigns data analytics operation and has gone on record discussing how he used data analytics and Facebook micro-targeting to originally sell Donald Trump merchandise. This in effect created even more accurate data about potential Trump supporters and was part of the reason that the Trump campaign was able to learn which states and groups were most responsive to his message.
In fact, many credit this data operation as the reason the campaign chose to focus so much energy on states like Wisconsin and Michigan. In some ways, the data operation proved more accurate than traditional polls, and many credit it and thus Kushner as one of the main reasons behind Trump’s eventual election win.
The data targeting operation used by the Trump team was similar in some ways to that used by Russia in an attempt to influence the election’s outcome. Therefore, the FBI probe is focusing on whether anyone connected with this data operation somehow unwittingly or wittingly assisted Russia in its data targeting efforts.
Even if Kushner himself is not a target and did nothing wrong, there is still a chance that someone else working for the data analytics company the campaign employed could have been compromised by the Russians. Of course, the only way we’ll ever know for sure is when the investigation is finally over and the dust settles. Still, one thing is for sure, which is that these Russia stories aren’t going to go away anytime soon.