Why Do You Send Your Digital Guy to Meet with the Russian Ambassador?

The HPSCI Democrats have released the report they should have had ready to go last night: their 21-page report on all the thing the HPSCI Russian investigation didn’t cover but should have. It’s an interesting list (though it seriously lets the GOP off the hook for treating this investigation as an obstructive lark). I’ll likely reflect on what kind of mirror it holds up to the Republican sense of which witnesses they had to vet for Trump.

For now, I want to point at an interesting little detail. In the section describing why HPSCI should know more about the Trump campaign’s digital operations, the report reveals that Jared Kushner sent the Trump campaign Assistant Director of Data Analysis, Avi Berkowitz, to go meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a month after the election, around the same time Russia was floating back channels so banks could bail out Kushner’s failing family real estate empire.

Trump Campaign Digital Operation: The Committee ought to interview all relevant persons involved or associated with the Trump campaign’s digital operation to determine whether the campaign coordinated in any way with Russia in its digital program. The Committee will not be able to fully evaluate the campaign’s digital operation without speaking to a broader crosssection of individuals who can provide greater insight into the digital operation’s day-to-day activities or its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. The Committee also must interview individuals from other companies who conducted technology-related work on behalf of the Trump campaign or on behalf of other entities being funded through independent expenditures to gain a full picture of whether there was any coordination between Russia’s extensive social media efforts on Trump’s behalf and the campaign itself.

For example, Avraham (Avi) Berkowitz, served as Assistant Director of Data Analytics on the Trump Campaign. He was also an associate of Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale. The Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Kushner may have dispatched Mr. Berkowitz to meet with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. Theresa Hong, who served as Digital Content Director for the Trump campaign, should also be asked to testify. Ms. Hong has spoken to the press about the campaign’s digital operation and her team’s work alongside Cambridge Analytica.

That very same month, I asked whether dark marketing had a role in all the mobs seemingly providing pressure in support of Trump at key moments.

That Berkowitz made that visit did get reported last spring. But not with the emphasis that Berkowitz was so central to the campaign’s digital organization.

Maybe (as someone suggested to me on Twitter) Jared was just sending Berkowitz to retrieve the thumb drives they had shared during the campaign?

24 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Jared Kushner sent the Trump campaign Assistant Director of Data Analysis, Avi Berkowitz, to go meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a month after the election, around the same time Russia was floating back channels so banks could bail out Kushner’s failing family real estate empire.

    Before we fell off the end of the political earth, that would have justified appointment of a special counsel.  What is a GOP president-elect doing working so closely with senior Russian government figures and why is he working so hard to hide it? The meeting with Kislyak is odd as hell.

    Using people too junior to appreciate the context of what they’re being asked to do, or too conflicted or junior to say no and keep their posts, is a Trump specialty. Even Jared fits that bill.

    Avi’s specialty would seem to be the law and his friendship with Jared (and Israel).  That would involve him in setting or implementing policy, not working the tech.  He seems brighter and more talented than Page or Papa, for example, or Hicks, but he gives off the same whiff of a cut-out.

    He fits this administration’s need for inexperienced people to do things over their heads and beyond their pay grades.  I guess that makes this aide not smart enough to know when to say no.  But he still has time.  If he’s as smart as his resume suggests, he would bail soon.

  2. joejoejoe says:

    From Guardian reporter Luke Harding in his book Collusion, as excerpted in the Sydney Morning Herald:

    “Kushner first met Sergey Kislyak in April, when Trump gave his foreign policy speech at DC’s Mayflower Hotel – just a handshake and pleasantries, Kushner said. Next came the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Then, on November 16, Kislyak got in touch again. By this point it was clear that Kushner would become senior adviser to the president.The Kushner-Kislyak meeting on December 1 took place at Trump Tower. Michael Flynn was present, too. Kushner made an unusual proposal. He asked Kislyak if it would be possible to set up a secret and secure communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin. The purpose, seemingly, was to keep any conversations hidden from the outgoing Obama administration and US intelligence. Could this be done, Kushner wondered, by using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States? The inquiry was staggeringly naive. If Kushner or Flynn were to drop by the Russian embassy, then US intelligence would certainly notice. The FBI didn’t bug the conversation but learned of it afterwards, when Kislyak reported to his superiors back in Moscow. According to FBI intercepts of Russian communications, Kislyak was taken aback by Kushner’s unusual request. Russia, it seemed, didn’t need to expend much effort to get close to Trump’s aides. Kislyak came up with a suggestion of his own. Perhaps Kushner would like to meet with another person from Moscow, someone with “a direct relationship” to President Putin? The details were agreed during a meeting on December 12 between Kislyak and Kushner’s assistant, Avi Berkowitz.”

    The context from the full article has much more about banking and financing help for Kushner.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      Every time I read about this incident (and others) I’m reminded of this scene from The Wire, where Herc is explaining how dumb his latest targets were (NSFW language):


      I suppose it’s not by coincidence that people like David Brooks and Russ Douthat are trying to push the line that Trump is too incompetent to collude, as though incompetence were a defense for a guy who walks up to an undercover cop and openly says “I brought the drugs did you bring the money?”

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Jared Kushner was and is just asking to be played, and there are many willing to do it. His continuing access to the White House and the president makes him a significant national security threat to the United States.

    • Peterr says:

      Deutsche Welle’s DC chief had this to say on Trump’s dismissal of Tillerson, with emphasis added:

      Occasionally, the president has also hinted that with a “genius” like him in the White House, the US does not need a government [ed: cabinet]. Because, of course, everything just depends on him. Megalomania and naivete go hand-in-hand with this president!

      Jared shares these two traits with his father-in-law, though he hides the megalomania better.

      These are also the traits that poker players love to see in that rich guy across the table. Having not one but two marks at the table, each egging the other on . . . well, as you said, that will lead many to want to sit down and ask to be dealt into that game.

      The sad thing is that these two are playing with our lives, our fortunes, and our nation’s honor.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Agreed.  Trump and Jared are two peas in a pod.  According to Harding’s tale, Jared has been on the make since well before the election victory, looking for ways to save his flagging empire.

        The opportunities appeared to multiply after Trump’s win, but taking advantage of them proved beyond his grasp.. Possibly that was because not being president and being in the public eye made it hard for him to deliver his end of any bargain.  So far as we know.  My guess is that Mr. Mueller knows more.

        That’s crass opportunism and conspiracy to defraud the US of honest services. An obvious outcome of blatant nepotism, failure to divest, and attempting to run one’s business and the USG at the same time. Those are problems ripe for solution.

        The big takeaway from Harding, though, and much of EW’s work, is that the Ruskies have been playing Trump for decades, with varying degrees of interest. That, too, seems ripe for solution.

    • Trip says:

      Kushner isn’t getting played, don’t let the baby face (“High School kid”, said the GOP) fool you. His role model, Charles, was all in on blackmail and mob tactics. There was chatter at one point that Golin Cipel may have been an Israeli operative introduced to NJ Gov. McGreevy by Charles (no proof of the operative narrative). Some background:


      Further, Kushner and Trump have had ties to the Kremlin (and Russia) via Israel and Chabad. That isn’t proof of any nefarious activity, but it does point to coziness and comfort through religious association as well as association and business with close friends of (Putin) the Kremlin, before the election.




      • Peterr says:

        There are two kinds of stupidity at work here: (1) making stupidly bad bets on the real estate market, and (2) stupidly accepting offers of “help” from disreputable folks to deal with #1. While it’s possible to ring up debts of the size Kushner has that would stem from sheer stupidity alone (see Wall Street and the housing crisis, for instance), his actions to deal with them suggest that #2 is highly likely.

        I suspect he’s been hearing phrases like “nice presidency your father-in-law has here – it’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it” for quite a while, which is why he is acting stupidly to find ways to get the folks who helped him (#2) off his back.

        Which brings me back to EOH above and Mr. Mueller.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Like that impossibly brilliant writer in Limitless.  He saves a week’s work by borrowing a hundred grand from a Russian mobster – a debt he learns he can never pay off – and then gets into bed with Wall Street’s hungriest shark to make money his drug-inflated brain could produce in half the time – because it was more exciting.

          We need more than brains in government, but a few of those would be good in this White House.  It hasn’t the brains of Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Don’t be influenced by the Harvard pedigree.  It was bought the old-fashioned way, by daddy’s multi-million dollar donation.  Inheriting money is not the same as making it or knowing what to do with it once you’ve got it, especially when daddy’s still around.

        By all accounts, the Kushner businesses are deep in debt, the kind that can lead to ruin.  That’s a lot of motivation, but it’s even more vulnerability in the super rich, politically charged world he lives in.  Deal makers in that world smell vulnerability the way a shark smells fear in the water, and they do their homework.

        If Kushner is smart enough not to get played, it probably means he can’t land any deals.  The Klieg lights on the White House are too bright.  And nobody straight seems to want to touch the overly indebted 666 Fifth Avenue albatross.

  4. Anne says:

    Last year I remember people talking about what it would take to get the GOP to turn against trump.  Will the recent Mueller activities, chaos, low approval ratings, and the election results from the 18th district last night (…so proud of my childhood district!),  affect the GOP?  Or will they double-down since it’s an election year?

        • Peterr says:

          Donald Trump ran his casinos by doubling down, thereby putting an asterisk next to the well-known proverb “the House always wins.”

          And like a bad gambler, he just keeps on doing the same thing. “But this time I’ll win . . .”

          • Trip says:

            How do you know he didn’t win? It depends on what money got washed through the casinos. His expenses were low due to politician assists in tax breaks, infrastructure, etc., plus he didn’t pay contractors. Crime pays and pays big. Otherwise there’d be no incentive to be involved in it. It’s not as if the bankruptcies humbled any standard of living.

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              We don’t know about any illicit gains Trump may have made by way of money laundering, tax avoidance and other financial crimes – or the returns he might have made from traditional real estate sales by allowing his properties to be used for same.

              It is readily apparent that he can’t run a straight business.  His personnel choices are unfit for work.  He has no tolerance for the processes that make businesses stable and profitable.  After six bankruptcies, banks won’t lend to him.  Partners, contractors, suppliers and employees run shy of him because he never pays or keeps his promises.  He sues at the drop of a hat to bluster his way out of trouble.  If he didn’t own a country club, mo one would let him join theirs.

              Trump can now make millions on the former president “lecture circuit”.  But he’s so easily bored he’ll always venture off into the weeds, looking for a big score.  That behavior makes you an attractive target to a foreign intelligence op.  The Russians figured that out thirty years ago.

              • Trip says:

                He’s making money right now. He’s selling mugs with the presidential seal, FFS. He’s raking in the $$ at hotels, Trump Tower, Maralago (for access, most likely), the golf courses, etc. He’s a grifter and BS artist who has skated due to his political donations (aka payoffs) and connections.

                And I agree with what you said.

                • Peterr says:

                  And he/his corporation is loaded with debt that is growing by the day. While some of his US properties are doing OK to well, various foreign properties are coming under greater and greater pressure as Trump spends wildly at the same time that the Trump name becomes more toxic. See Toronto, Panama, Scotland, Ireland, . . .

                  Unless you know the debit side of his ledger, any claims that he’s making money are WAGs at best.

                  • Trip says:

                    I have no idea what his assets and income are. My point was that he has been propped up, assisted, and hasn’t suffered any debilitating loss of the high life, like normal people who have gone through bankruptcies. Plus, he is now the president of the US. If he pulls off the chicanery further, nothing changes.

  5. Rayne says:

    Thinking about this bit:

    That very same month, I asked whether dark marketing had a role in all the mobs seemingly providing pressure in support of Trump at key moments.

    and noting your dark marketing post was dated 08-DEC-2016, I realized this was Wednesday, two days after Trump’s pre-NYSE open tweet about Boeing’s contract for the new Air Force One. That tweet received 20K comments, 41K retweets, and 136K likes. Many of the comments were bot-ish: poorly spelled and/or composed by sketchy accounts.

    Was Team Trump’s ‘dark marketing’ unleashed post-election/pre-inauguration, manipulating both an existing government contract and the stock market? Wish we had something more specific about the date Berkowitz met Kislyak in December.

  6. cfost says:

    Strategic Communication Laboratories

    Now you’ve got me going down another rabbit hole, learning about this outfit. Obviously amoral. Obviously all over the nets, including YouTube. Very proud of themselves.

    These folks concern me

  7. matt says:

    (reply in comment not working)

    @Trip 8:59am. The triangle between conservative interests in Israel, Putin, and Trump finally make sense after reading the Politico article you linked to from last year. Also, makes you wonder after Buzzfeed’s article on Felix Sater’s amazing feats of intelligence, and friendliness with the FBI weather he was a Mossad agent/asset.

    Too, it looks like Israel’s conservative forces are pushing back on liberalism and domestic criticism of hard-line policies by stoking the fires of a new “evangelical” Judaism. To what end? Is this all about the power vacuum that we created by our (Obama/Hillary) unwillingness to escalate war in Syria or start one with Iran? The Israeli press seems to indicate that their political system is divided too between the war hawks and those that want to forge ahead with the Iran deal and cooperative development in the Middle East. But, Putin supports the Iran deal which Netanyahu seems not to.

    If anyone here at EW can shed some light on these relationships for me, that would be appreciated. I apologize if this is off thread, It just seems to me important to understand the Putin/Trump connection as it relates to Israel and their stake Middle East foreign policy.

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