A number of recent developments have made the Russia scandal even more of a headache for President Donald Trump and his administration.
The investigation expands to Michael Flynn
Special counsel Robert Mueller is going to probe former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his ongoing investigation into alleged ties between Trump's campaign and the Russian government, according to a report by Reuters. This will include communications between Flynn and individuals connected to the Russian government both during and after the 2016 presidential election, as well as Flynn's lobbying on behalf of Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. A source of concern is that Flynn's work on a documentary about Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who currently lives in Pennsylvania. Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of being involved in a 2016 coup attempt, while Alptekin is an Erdogan supporter.
Tough questions are being asked about Jared Kushner
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, is under increasing scrutiny for a secret meeting held in December between himself and the chief executive of Vnesheconombank, a powerful Russian bank known for being an ally of President Vladimir Putin, according to a report by the Washington Post. While Vnesheconombank claims that they met with Kushner to discuss his family's real estate business, the White House claims that the meeting was conducted for diplomatic reasons. Not surprisingly, the discrepancy in their stories is one of many things that have people asking questions.
One Democratic congresswoman on the House Intelligence Committee says that something's not adding up. "Of all the people he could be talking to in a transition period where you've got lots of balls in the air, that you end up talking to a Russian banker who is under sanction and who is related to Putin and has a KGB background," Rep. Jackie Speier, Calif., told ABC News. "I think the question has to be asked, was this about you trying to get financing for your troubled real estate that you have in New York City?"
Speier was referencing a Manhattan skyscraper purchased by the Kushner family — one that could be financially vulnerable. As Government Accountability Institute president Peter Schweizer told ABC News, the meeting had "conflict of interest written all over it" because if "you worry about a quid pro quo, you worry about Kushner getting some financial arrangement from a Russian financial institution, and you worry about White House policy being shaped in a way that benefits either those banks or Russia at large. That's the concern."
Trump reportedly wanted to lift President Barack Obama's Russian sanctions right away
Multiple sources told Yahoo News that, when Trump first took office, members of his administration ordered the State Department to draw up proposals for ending punitive measures imposed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. These included lifting economic sanctions and returning diplomatic compounds that had been seized by the government.
In response to this, Yahoo News reported that State Department leaders contacted congressional leaders so that they would pass legislation making it more difficult for Trump to do this. Former State Department official Dan Fried told Yahoo News that "there was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," resulting in him receiving panicked calls from government officials asking, "Please, my God, can’t you stop this?"
A senior White House official confirmed to Yahoo News that the Trump administration had "been reviewing all the sanctions — and this is not exclusive to Russia. All the sanctions regimes have mechanisms built in to alleviate them. It’s been our hope that the Russians would take advantage of that."