TrumpWatch, Day 235: Some Trump Lawyers Wanted Kushner to Resign over Russia Inquiry

Trump’s son-in-law seen as vulnerable because of undeclared contacts with Russian officials

Developments on Day 235 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: A Trump Administration Showdown with Iran? (Not Yet.)

Trump Lawyers Called for Kushner’s Departure in June

Some members of Donald Trump’s legal team wanted Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to resign as a White House advisor in June, because of their concern about Kushner’s contacts with Russian officials, according to “people familiar with the matter”.

The lawyers were worried about Kushner as a liability in the investigation of recently-appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, after it was revealed that Kushner failed to mention four meetings with Russian officials on his security clearance forms.

The attorneys also assessed that Kushner might speak to investigators without a lawyer present and that he would be damaged in the forthcoming revelations of a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower — arranged by Donald Trump Jr. — with three Kremlin-linked envoys. Kushner, as well as Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, were also in the discussion about Russia’s provision of material damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The lawyers expressed their concerns to Trump and had staff draft a statement in anticipation of Kushner’s departure. But Trump argued that Kushner had done nothing wrong.

Trump’s attorneys denied the report. John Dowd, who became head of the White House team in July, said that, “to my knowledge”, the issue was never brought to Trump: “I didn’t agree with that view at all. I thought it was absurd. I made my views known.”

Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer who gave way to Dowd, said in a statement:

I never discussed with other lawyers for the President that Jared Kushner should step down from his position at the White House, I never recommended to the President that Mr. Kushner should step down from that position and I am not aware that any other lawyers for the President made any such recommendation either.

Kushner met with Russian officials during and after the 2016 Presidential campaign, including conversations in December with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with Sergei Gorkov, the head of the Kremlin-connected Vnesheconombank.

The advisor omitted not only the Russian meetings, but all contacts — more than 100 — with foreign officials on his initial form for a White House security clearance.

The meeting with Gorkov — which Russian officials said was about Kushner’s real estate interests — has raised the possibility that Trump’s son-in-law was seeking funds for a troubled New York City skyscraper project on which the Kushner Company owes about $600 million. The company is facing demands for full payment no later than early 2019.

After speaking with investigators for Congressional committees this summer, Kushner said, “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”

Mexico Withdraws Offer of Aid for Recovery After Hurricane Harvey

Mexico withdraws its offer of aid for recovery efforts in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, saying resources are needed at home after a separate hurricane and an earthquake.

Last month, Mexico issued a statement offering to send food, generators, and medical aid to Texas “as good neighbors should always do in trying times”, even as Donald Trump was using Twitter to call Mexico “one of the highest crime nations in the world” and reiterating his claim that Mexicans will pay for construction of a border wall.

Trump never responded to Mexico’s offer. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said his state would accept the country’s aid.

On Monday, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said aid is now being redirected to care for Mexican families and communities after last Thursday’s 8.1-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 95 people, most of them in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Category 1 Hurricane Katia struck Mexico’s Gulf Coast on Saturday, killed at least two people.

Trump did not offer condolences to Mexico after either disaster, in contrast to many American mayors and governors who offered sympathies and help.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry thanked Abbott, who pledged after the earthquake to “stand with Mexico and offer whatever aid and assistance we can to help them recover after this disaster”. It expressed the Mexican government’s “full solidarity with the state of Florida in the face of the severe impact of Hurricane Irma.”

Hours later, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray received a phone call from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who “offered his condolences for the loss of life and the devastation caused by the earthquake in Mexico and from Hurricane Katia”, according to the State Department.

Congress Rebuffs Trump Over Budget Cuts for National Institutes of Health

In a sign of possible battles over its draft budget, the Trump Administration has been rebuffed by legislators in its attempt to cut funds for the National Institutes of Health.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bipartisan bill providing $36.1 billion — a $2 billion increase and a rise of about 20% over three years — for the NIH in the fiscal year starting in October. The House of Representatives has approved a $1.1 billion increase, with the final resolution expected to be closer to the Senate figure.

Mr. Trump had proposed a 22% cut in the NIH budget from $34.1 billion to $26.6 billion.

The appropriations committees in both houses rejected Trump’s proposal to slash payments to universities for overheads — “indirect costs” — of NIH-funded research. These include the cost of utilities, internet service, data storage, the construction and upkeep of laboratories, and compliance with federal rules protecting human subjects of clinical research.

The House and Senate bills explicitly prohibit the Administration from changing the formula used for decades to calculate and pay indirect costs.

Health Secretary Tom Price had argued for the cutds in March: “About 30% of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which, as you know, means that that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done.”

The committees also rejected Trump’s proposal to eliminate an NIH unit that works with other countries over global health threats.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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