Soon after President Trump took office, presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was warned by the FBI that he was being targeted by Chinese influence operations — a.k.a. spies.
Earlier this month, the “Wall Street Journal” reported that one of those warnings involved Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump’s friendship with Wendy Deng, the ex-wife of Fox News and “WSJ” owner Rupert Murdoch. They were concerned Deng was using her friendship with the couple to advance Chinese interests, including a Washington, D.C. building with a 70-foot tower that could be used for surveillance.
This week, the “New Yorker” reports the warnings went deeper: The FBI “flagged” Kushner’s numerous meetings with Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai, which happened without any experienced government officials or a note-taker. Some officials worry Cui is taking advantage of Kushner’s inexperience in international affairs. “There’s nobody else there in the room to verify what was said and what wasn’t, so the Chinese can go back and claim anything,” a former senior U.S. official who was briefed on the meetings told the magazine.
What’s more: Chinese officials have said that during some of the meetings, Cui and Kushner discussed Kushner’s business interests along with policy, U.S. officials briefed on U.S. intelligence said. In March, the FBI briefed Kushner about the dangers of Chinese influence ops, but he seemed unconcerned.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have significant business dealings in China, including at least $50 million in Chinese financing for Kushner’s real-estate holdings abroad. Since Trump took office, Beijing has approved scores of trademark applications for Ivanka to sell bags, jewelry and spa services in the country.
“There was never a time—never—that Mr. Kushner spoke to any foreign officials, in the campaign, transition, and in the Administration, about any personal or family business,” a spokesperson for Kushner told “The New Yorker.” “He was scrupulous in this regard.”
Kushner still does not have a permanent security clearance but is still receiving top-secret intelligence, including the Presidential Daily Brief.
In the U.S. intelligence community, Chinese spies are as much of a concern as the Russians. “The Chinese influence operations are more long-term, broader in scope, and are generally designed to achieve a more diffuse goal than the Russians’ are,” Christopher Johnson, a former C.I.A. analyst who specializes in China, told the “New Yorker.” “To be unkind to the Russians, you’d say they are more crass.”
The Chinese “are in it for the long haul,” another former intelligence official said.