Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: OK, maybe there really WAS collusion

In December, Jared Kushner reportedly asked the Russian ambassador to establish a secret backchannel, using secure Russian diplomatic equipment, between the Trump transition team and Russian officials. That would be the same Russian officials who had just helped to elect his father-in-law as president of the United States.

And who was their mutual enemy, the third party from whom both Kushner and the Russians wanted to hide their discussions?

That would be the U.S. government.

Pointedly, Kushner has not attempted to deny those charges, published Friday evening by both the New York Times and Washington Post. Nor did Kushner deny a separate report from Reuters that he had at least three separate contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak between April and November of 2016, including two telephone conversations.  None of those contacts were disclosed by Kushner, as required by law, when he applied for and received a top-secret security clearance.

"Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period," his attorney explained in a statement. "He has no recollection of the calls as described. We have asked (Reuters) for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information."

No recollection.

I've never met or spoken with Kislyak -- at least I don't think I have. But he's apparently the most nondescript, boring person on the face of planet Earth, because nobody who did meet or talk with him seems to have any memory of doing so.

Citing six different sources, Reuters also reports that the pre-election conversations between Kushner, Mike Flynn and Kislyak "focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations." That's interesting. On one hand, it seems premature at best to discuss "improving economic relations" at a time when Trump was still a longshot to win or, in the case of the April call, before he had even claimed the GOP nomination.

On the other hand, such talk might serve as encouragement and give the Russians a pretty good idea of what they had to gain should Trump be elected.

Remember, the Trump campaign had steadfastly denied that it had any contacts whatsoever with Russian officials. Yet as Reuters also reports:

"Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. Two people familiar with those 18 contacts said Flynn and Kushner were among the Trump associates who spoke to the ambassador by telephone."

And just to put this into context, top officials for the campaigns of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush have all confirmed that they had zero contacts with Russian officials.

And as the Washington Post reports in its own account:

"In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.

The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin."

To this point, I have argued strongly and repeatedly that actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials was highly implausible. But if you look at all this as it has unraveled -- Russia's clear intervention on Trump's behalf, Trump's firing of James Comey in an attempt to stop the FBI investigation, the multiple, unprecedented and undisclosed contacts between Russian officials and those at the highest levels of the Trump campaign, and Trump's attempts to disrupt NATO, Russia's most-feared adversary -- I can't honestly make that argument any longer.

It's now an open question, an open question with possibly earth-shaking implications.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.