Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to the president and the his son-in-law, reportedly discussed with the Russian ambassador the possibility of creating a secret communication channel between Donald Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.
Sergei Kislyak, the Russian envoy to the US, told his superiors in Moscow that Mr Kushner proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for their discussions, the Washington Post reported, citing US officials briefed on intelligence reports.
The move, which was reportedly discussed in December, was apparently intended to make the confidential talks more difficult to monitor.
Mr Kislyak was reportedly “taken aback” by the suggestion, according to Post, which cited anonymous US officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.
The White House declined to comment, the newspaper said. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The White House in March confirmed that Mr Kushner and the ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with Mr Kislyak at Trump Tower in December.
The explosive report comes a day after it was claimed that Mr Kushner is under scrutiny by the FBI as part of the Russia investigation.
Mr Kushner’s lawyer said he stood ready to talk to federal investigators as well as Congress about his contacts and his role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The FBI and several congressional committees are looking into Russia-Trump campaign connections, including allegations there may have been collaboration to help Mr Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The FBI tries to be thorough in their investigations, said defence lawyer Edward MacMahon, who is not involved in the case.
If it’s been publicly reported that he met with Russians, and the investigation has to do with administration officials meeting with Russians, well, then, they’ll probably want to talk to everybody.
Mr Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy, and remains an influential confidant within the White House.
One likely area of interest for investigators would be Mr Kushner’s own meetings with Russians, given that such encounters with a variety of Trump associates are at the root of the sprawling probe, now overseen by former FBI director Robert Mueller.
The White House in March confirmed that Mr Kushner and Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser, met with Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, at Trump Tower in December for what one official called a brief courtesy meeting.
Flynn was pushed out of the White House in February after officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed US sanctions against Russia in a phone call. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told Congress this month that that deception left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians.
Flynn remains under federal investigation in Virginia over his foreign business ties and was interviewed by the FBI in January about his contacts with Kislyak.
If there is an investigation on anybody, would other folks around that person be of interest to the FBI as far as being interviewed? The answer to that is a big yes, said former FBI agent Jim Treacy, who did two tours in Moscow as the FBI’s legal attache. If the FBI wants to speak with someone, it’s not necessarily an indication of involvement or complicity, Mr Treacy said.
Really, being spoken to, does not confer a target status on the individual, he said.
Investigators are also interested in a meeting Mr Kushner had with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, according to reports from The Washington Post and NBC News.
Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings, his attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement on Thursday. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.
Another potential line of inquiry could concern Mr Kushner’s failure to disclose some of his contacts with Russian government officials when he was filling out his application for a security clearance.
The omissions were described as an administrative error by Mr Gorelick, who said additional information about his meetings were provided to the FBI the day after he submitted his incomplete clearance application.
When applying for a security clearance, applicants are asked to disclose details about their interactions with foreigners, including the names of all the foreign government officials the applicant has had contact with over the past seven years.
In some cases, people can lose their security clearances and jobs for not properly disclosing foreign contacts. Some Democrats have called on Kushner to be stripped of his security clearance and have asked the FBI to review whether Kushner complied with the law.
Todd Hinnen, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said it would be easy to read too much into investigators’ interest in Mr Kushner.
That doesn’t mean he is a subject or the FBI suspects him of any wrongdoing; it also doesn’t mean the FBI doesn’t suspect him of any wrongdoing, Mr Hinnen said in an email.
Given his position and his contacts, interviewing him would be an important step in any thorough investigation, Mr Hinnen said.