On Friday, all three network morning shows began with anchors breathlessly declaring that President Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner was “under scrutiny” in the FBI’s Russia investigation. However, after offering the screaming salacious headlines, each broadcast quietly admitted that Kushner was not the target of the investigation nor was he accused of any wrongdoing.
Opening NBC’s Today, co-host Matt Lauer hyped: “Under scrutiny, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now part of the FBI’s Russia investigation.” Minutes later, fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie promised viewers there was “fresh turmoil facing the Trump administration.” Correspondent Peter Alexander further sensationalized the story: “Jared Kushner may be the closest adviser to the President, making him one of the most powerful people in this country....That means this investigation now reaches right next to the President.”
After touting how Kushner was “the only current White House official that’s known to be under scrutiny in the probe,” Alexander ominously warned: “Kushner’s position as both adviser and son-in-law putting the Russia probe not only inside the White House, but inside the President’s family circle.”
Now despite all of that over-the-top rhetoric treating the revelation like a Watergate-style bombshell, Alexander wrapped up the report by briefly acknowledging: “To be clear here, the U.S. officials say that Kushner is not a target of the investigation, he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.”
Talking to MSNBC’s Chief Legal Analyst Ari Melber, Guthrie wondered: “To say someone is ‘under scrutiny’ is kind of a vague term. What does it mean, what doesn’t it mean?” Melber explained: “It can be vague. It doesn’t mean that authorities want to charge this person.”
Even after throwing a wet blanket on the hysterical declarations at the top of the show, Melber still tried to gin up the story: “Well, it’s not good for the White House, because they have repeatedly said that there is no there, there....Ultimately, this is a White House that has tried to sweep this under the rug. This news suggests this story is alive.”
Leading off ABC’s Good Morning America, fill-in co-host and World News Tonight anchor David Muir proclaimed: “Also breaking, his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner now caught in the cross-hairs of the Russia investigation.”
Turning to correspondent David Wright in the 7:30 a.m. ET half hour, Muir announced: “We've learned that under scrutiny now President Trump’s son-in-law, Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, and his contacts with the Russians...” Wright declared: “Jared Kushner is not just another White House staffer. He may well be the President’s closest adviser, the one guy in the inner circle who can’t be fired, so the fact that he’s now swept up in the Russia investigation puts this all uncomfortably close to the President.”
But again, just like Alexander, he was forced to admit just seconds later: “FBI sources tell ABC News Kushner is not accused of any wrongdoing, nor is he a target of their investigation.”
Earlier on the show, Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl emphasized that point: “He is a person of interest to that FBI investigation. There is no indication whatsoever that he is a target of the investigation....It’s going to be a major distraction but its important to note, David, there is no indication that Jared Kushner is a target of this investigation.”
Finally, at the beginning of CBS This Morning, co-host Norah O’Donnell heralded: “President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is under FBI scrutiny as the Russia investigation reaches into the White House.” In the report that followed, correspondent Jeff Pegues amped up the coverage: “Jared Kushner is now under an FBI microscope....Investigators are scrutinizing his actions and interactions with Russian officials and whether they included something improper.”
The headline on screen blared: “Kushner & The Kremlin?; FBI Scrutinizes Trump Son-in-Law’s Ties to Russia.”
It only took a few minutes for co-host Charlie Rose to turn to down the volume: “What does this mean for Jared Kushner? Because The Washington Post, who first broke this story – CBS has confirmed and others – they say, the Post says he’s not been told – that he is not a target of the investigation or a focus of investigation. What is he?”
Face the Nation moderator John Dickerson replied: “Well, we don’t know because we don’t know the full scope of what the FBI has. But what we do know is that he is very, very close to the President, and so, there is a wonderful source of information.... even if he himself is not under any kind of pressure for anything that he specifically did.”
So simultaneously the Russia investigation “reaches into the White House,” but Kushner isn’t actually accused of anything and not a target of the investigation. Perhaps the network producers should have toned down the language of the misleading headlines they led their shows with.
Here are transcripts of the May 26 coverage on all three morning shows:
7:04 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: That Montana election is a win for the White House, but this morning there’s fresh turmoil facing the Trump administration. As NBC News was first to report, the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is now coming under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation. We’re gonna start our coverage of that with NBC National Correspondent Peter Alexander. Peter, good morning.
PETER ALEXANDER: Hey, Savannah, good morning. Jared Kushner may be the closest adviser to the President, making him one of the most powerful people in this country. And now multiple U.S. officials tell NBC News that the FBI is taking a closer look at Kushner in it’s Russia inquiry. That means this investigation now reaches right next to the President.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Kushner Under Scrutiny in Russia Probe; FBI Says Son-In-Law Has “Significant Information”]
This morning, the FBI’s Russia probe is expanding into the West Wing. Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to President Trump, now under FBI scrutiny. Multiple U.S. officials tell NBC News that investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their Russia inquiry. He’s the only current White House official that’s known to be under scrutiny in the probe.
The FBI is investigating whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. But it’s unclear precisely what about Kushner’s activities has drawn the FBI’s interest. During the Trump transition, Kushner met at least once with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He also held a separate meeting last year with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. Gorkov heads a government-owned development bank that’s been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.
Though investigators are taking a closer look at Kushner, it does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him. In a statement Kushner’s attorney tells NBC News, “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he’s contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
DONALD TRUMP: Jared’s a very successful man from New York.
ALEXANDER: Kushner’s position as both adviser and son-in-law putting the Russia probe not only inside the White House, but inside the president’s family circle.
I spoke to several White House officials overnight. Right now the White House is not commenting. Instead, redirecting us to that statement from Jared Kushner’s lawyer. To be clear here, the U.S. officials say that Kushner is not a target of the investigation, he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. For now he’s in a different category than the former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who ultimately became national security adviser before being ousted. Both men are formally considered subjects of the investigation. Matt and Savannah?
GUTHRIE: Alright, Peter Alexander, thank you.
7:30 AM ET
DAVID MUIR: In the meantime, we'll move on to that new development in the Russia investigation. We've learned that under scrutiny now President Trump's son-in-law, Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner and his contacts with the Russians and ABC news has learned contacts between Kushner and Russian officials are a focus and ABC's David Wright is following the overnight developments for us.
DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning. Jared Kushner is not just another White House staffer. He may well be the President's closest adviser, the one guy in the inner circle who can't be fired so the fact that he's now swept up in the Russia investigation puts this all uncomfortably close to the president. Jared Kushner's lawyer promised full cooperation. Quote, "Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry." FBI sources tell ABC News Kushner is not accused of any wrongdoing, nor is he a target of their investigation. But the FBI is curious about a December meeting Kushner had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn. Flynn's further contacts with that same Russian ambassador ultimately got him fired.
TRUMP: I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it.
WRIGHT: During the transition, Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank that is subject to U.S. Sanctions.
TRUMP:Jared is a very successful real estate person but I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate. He's very good at politics.
WRIGHT: Just a few years ago Jared Kushner was running his dad's company cutting his first big real estate deals in Brooklyn.
KUSHNER: The last place I thought I would be would be spending a lot of time in Brooklyn.
WRIGHT: The 36-year-old real estate investor with no prior government experience now is never far from the boss' side. The Week magazine calls him "America's princeling." He rarely speaks publicly, but he has the king's ear.
TRUMP: He is a great guy.
WRIGHT: He’s the point guy for the generals, the back channel for world leaders. In charge of reinventing government and brokering Middle East peace. Kushner has so much on his plate he's the butt of late night jokes.
COLBERT: Okay, that's a little much for one family member, maybe they should give Middle East peace to Tiffany.
WRIGHT: So the fact that Kushner's name has now come up as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates --
TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch-hunt.
WRIGHT -- Has got to be a sore subject. Well, at this point we learned the FBI has not even reached out to Kushner nor have they requested any documents yet but sources tell us he's being considered in a different category altogether from Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and some of the people that are more directly implicated.
MUIR: As you point out no contact with the FBI. We know that Robert Mueller is now special counsel heading up the investigation. Any kind of time frame as to when they could be reaching?
WRIGHT: None whatsoever and this FBI investigation is very different from the congressional ones because there they're negotiating with friendly allies, Republicans in Congress here. Robert Mueller operates on his own timetable.
MUIR: Alright. But reaching into the West Wing.
CBS This Morning
7:06 AM ET
ALEX WAGNER: CBS News has confirmed President Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is under scrutiny in the FBI Russia investigation. The issue is Kushner’s meetings during the presidential transition with Russia’s U.S. ambassador and a Moscow banker with ties to Russian security. Investigators are seeking evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Jeff Pegues is outside FBI headquarters in Washington. Jeff, good morning.
JEFF PEGUES: Good morning. Jared Kushner is now under an FBI microscope. He was a key figure during the campaign and during the transition to the White House. Investigators are scrutinizing his actions and interactions with Russian officials and whether they included something improper.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Kushner & The Kremlin?; FBI Scrutinizes Trump Son-in-Law’s Ties to Russia]
After traveling with the President for most of his overseas trip, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, returned to the U.S. amid new revelations about the scope of the Russia investigation. CBS News has confirmed that part of the investigation includes scrutinizing Kushner’s contacts with Russian officials. Kushner has acknowledged meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December. Kislyak then arranged for Kushner to meet with the head of Russian-owned VEB Bank, Sergey Gorkov, who was trained by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB.
Investigators are looking into the nature of the contacts as part of its ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation. Kushner’s attorney released a statement saying, “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.” Kushner has offered to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting a separate investigation.
DONALD TRUMP: There was no collusion.
PEGUES: Since he took office, the President has dismissed the Russia investigation as a scam and a witch hunt.
TRUMP: The entire thing has been a which hunt and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign.
PEGUES: But the FBI investigation continues to expand to include people close to him and connected to his campaign. Also among those under FBI scrutiny, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and President Trump’s long-time friend Roger Stone. There has been a flurry of new developments related the Russian investigation in recent days. A White House official acknowledged that and said that everyone gets their moment in the hot seat and circus. Norah?
NORAH O’DONNELL: Alright, Jeff, thank you.