By Elena Fabrichnaya, Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle | MOSCOW/WASHINGTON
A Russian bank under Western economic sanctions over Russia's incursion into Ukraine disclosed on Monday that its executives had met Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, in December.
A U.S. Senate committee investigating suspected Russian interference in the election wants to interview Trump associates, including Kushner, 36, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and has agreed to testify.
Kushner previously acknowledged meeting the Russian ambassador to Washington last December and only on Monday did it emerge that executives of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) had talks with Kushner during a bank roadshow last year.
The bank said in an emailed statement that as part of its preparing a new strategy, its executives met representatives of financial institutes in Europe, Asia and America.
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.
There was no immediate comment from Kushner.
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.
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But there has been no doubt that the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, developed contacts among the Trump team. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign on Feb. 13 after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
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, chairman of Vnesheconombank.
White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed the meetings, saying nothing of consequence was discussed.
Gorkov was appointed head of VEB in early 2016 by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He graduated from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, Russia’s internal security agency. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland, according to the bank's website.
According to two congressional staffers, some Senate investigators want to question Kushner and Flynn about whether they discussed with Gorkov or other Russian officials or financial executives the possibility of investing in 666 Fifth Avenue in New York or other Kushner Co or Trump properties if the new administration lifted the sanctions.
President Trump and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
VEB, aside from being under sanctions, has been grappling with bad debt after financing politically expedient projects such as construction for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
It received 150 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) in support from the Russian budget in 2016, when its senior management was sacked and replaced by a team of executives from Russia's biggest lender Sberbank.
In an article posted on Dec. 18, Forbes estimated that Jared Kushner, his brother Josh and his parents, Charles and Seryl, have a fortune of at least $1.8 billion, more than half of which Forbes estimates is held in real estate.
Forbes did not provide a specific estimate for Jared Kushner’s net worth on his own.
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," Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate panel also said Kushner had agreed to be interviewed but no date had yet been scheduled.
Simply meeting with representatives of a U.S.-sanctioned entity is not a violation of sanctions or against the law.
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 in March 2016. Buryakov admitted in federal court in Manhattan to acting as an agent for the Russian government without notifying U.S. authorities.
He was prosecuted by the office of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan under Preet Bharara, who was among several chief prosecutors fired or asked to resign earlier this month by the new administration.
Also on Monday, a mystery rooted in Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by then President Barack Obama during the election campaign deepened with the disclosure that a top congressional Republican reviewed classified information on the White House grounds about potential surveillance of some Trump campaign associates.
U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, visited the White House the night before he announced on Wednesday that he had information that indicated some Trump associates may have been subjected to some level of intelligence activity before Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Democrats have said Nunes, who was a member of Trump's transition team, can no longer run a credible investigation of Russian hacking, the U.S. election and any potential involvement by Trump associates.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, have urged Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Nunes told CNN on Monday that he went to the White House grounds because the intelligence information was not available to Congress. He said he did not meet with Trump or his aides at that time and did not coordinate the release of information with the Trump administration.
Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement that Nunes "met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source."
White House spokesman Spicer did not shed any light on who at the White House helped Nunes gain access to a secure location.
It was the latest twist in a saga that began on March 4 when Trump said on Twitter without providing evidence that he "just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory."
FBI Director James Comey told Congress last Monday he had seen no evidence to support the claim.
(This version of the story corrects paragraph 1 to show that meeting was in December, not during 2016 presidential campaign. Paragraph 22 has also been corrected to show Buryakov pleaded guilty in March 2016, not Friday.)
(Reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya and Polina Devitt in Moscow and Patricia Zengerle, Steve Holland, Mark Hosenball, John Walcott, Arshad Mohammed, Eric Beech and Warren Strobel in Washington; editing by Yara Bayoumy and Grant McCool)