Jared Kushner, the senior advisor and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, released a statement on Monday morning to the House and Senate intelligence committees—his first comments publicly regarding his interactions with Russians during the 2016 campaign. He denied any wrongdoing.
During the transition, Kushner reportedly met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak for the purpose of establishing a secret line of communication between the Trump team and the Kremlin. Apparently, this was an attempt to circumvent US intelligence eavesdropping, according to the Washington Post.
Kushner’s security clearance form did not originally list any contacts with foreign government officials; he now claims the form was submitted early due to a “miscommunication” with an assistant. (He also initially failed to disclose dozens of financial holdings.)
On Monday, Kushner revealed that he had been contacted a week before the election by someone named “Guccifer400,” an apparent homage to Guccifer 2.0, the malicious hacker or hacking group that US intelligence chiefs have fingered as an attribution front for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence directorate—though, not wholly convincingly.
“On October 30, 2016, I received a random email from the screenname Guccifer400,” Kushner said. “This email, which I interpreted as a hoax, was an extortion attempt and threatened to reveal candidate Trump’s tax returns and demanded that we send him 52 bitcoin in exchange for not publishing that information.”
He continued: “I brought the email to the attention of the US Secret Service agent on the plane we were all traveling on and asked what he thought. He advised me to ignore it and not to reply—which is what I did. The sender never contacted me again.”
It is unclear why Kushner brought up the Guccifer400 email in his statement if the threat was ultimately proven bogus. But it’s possible he is trying to avoid the appearance of concealing information from Hill investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Even if inconsequential, he may have also wanted to point out that not every nefarious character in the world was working in tandem to elect his father-in-law president.
Trump’s tax returns were never released, though he had explicitly promised to publish them during the campaign. “I’m under a routine audit and it’ll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released,” Trump said at the first presidential debate in September. He immediately reneged on the promise as soon as he was elected, which was unsurprising, really, given that his excuse for not doing so was nonsensical from the start.
Guccifer 2.0 is known to have conspired with Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and political operative who appeared to have foreknowledge about leaked Democrat party emails before their publication by WikiLeaks last year. In August 2016, Stone admitted publicly that he was in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last year and he is known to have communicated privately with Guccifer 2.0 via Twitter.
Guccifer 2.0’s name is a homage to “Guccifer” aka Marcel Lazăr Lehel, a 40-something-year-old Romanian hacker known primarily known for hacking Sidney Blumenthal, a Hillary Clinton confidant and former aide to President Bill Clinton. Lehel was arrested by Romanian authorities in early 2014. He was extradited to the United States last year where he pleaded guilty to hacking charges as part of a plea deal.
Guccifer 2.0 has denied being Russian or working for Russian intelligence. There is some evidence, however, that his claims of being a Romanian hacker are false, and Slavic language experts have argued that he—or she, or they, for that matter—is either Russian or educated in Russia. (A Boston College professor specializing in Eastern European linguistics also told Motherboard last year that Guccifer 2.0 could be Maldovan.)
In addition to colluding with Stone, Guccifer 2.0 is also known to have shared data stolen from the Democratic National Committee with a GOP operative from Florida named Aaron Nevins—who appears to be, by all accounts, a total fucking crackpot.