U.S. counterintelligence officials cautioned Jared Kushner that Chinese-American businesswoman Wendi Deng Murdoch could be using her friendship with Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump to further Chinese government interests, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The report said U.S. officials have also had concerns about a counterintelligence assessment that Murdoch was lobbying for a “high-profile construction project” funded by the Chinese government in Washington, D.C.
The project was first approved under the Bush administration in 2003. Then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin with a model of the project in January 2011. Following an agreement by then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, there was a groundbreaking ceremony in October 2016.
However, since then, the project has been deemed a national security risk because it inclded a 70-foot-tall white tower that could potentially be used for surveillance, according to the report. The report did not say when the project was deemed a national security risk.
The sources for the story were “people familiar with the matter.”
The counterintelligence officials didn’t provide Kushner with details about their assessment of Murdoch, the sources said. Ivanka Trump was not present for the counterintelligence warning.
The WSJ said, “the warning was part of an effort by national-security officials to highlight to Mr. Kushner, who was new to government, the need to be careful in his dealings with people whose interests may not align with those of the U.S.”
It also noted that “it is common for counterintelligence officials to warn senior members of a new administration about interactions with people with foreign connections, and such briefings sometimes refer to specific people.”
The report noted that “neither Ms. Murdoch, Mr. Kushner nor Ms. Trump has been accused of any wrongdoing.”
A representative for Kushner and Trump said the interaction with officials warning him about Murdoch was a “routine senior staff security briefing.”
A spokesman for Ms. Murdoch said she has “no knowledge of any FBI concerns or intelligence agency concerns relating to her or her associations.” He added that Murdoch has “absolutely no knowledge of any garden projects funded by the Chinese government.”
A representative for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said the report’s information was “full of groundless speculation.”
Trump critics immediately cast suspicion on Kushner and Trump, despite their friendship with Murdoch going back years. They also mentioned that Murdoch was rumored to have dated Russian President Vladimir Putin also.
Murdoch, the daughter of a factory director, came to the U.S. in 1988, studied at Yale University’s business school, and landed a job at News Corp.’s Star TV in Hong Kong, where she met Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corps.
They were married in 1999. He filed for divorce in 2013. She is a U.S. citizen. She interacted with Kushner and Trump at least several times last year, according to social media postings.
Kushner and Trump “have been friends with Rupert and Wendi Murdoch for a decade before coming to Washington and their relationship is neither political nor about China,” their representative said.
The report noted that Kushner and Trump were “important points of contact” despite early tensions between the Trump administration and China. Trump attended a Lunar New Year party at the Chinese embassy in Washington in February, and that Kushner helped set up the Mar-a-Lago summit last year between the president and Xi, and accompanied the president to Beijing last fall.
The WSJ noted Trump’s daughter sang a new year’s song in Chinese Mandarin. The report also noted the Kushner family real estate company, Kushner Cos., has pursued business in China.
One of the sources said Murdoch had “previously surfaced on the radar of counterintelligence professionals” when she was still married to Murdoch, but reports said she was romantically involved with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“British security officials discussed with U.S. counterparts whether the alleged relationship could be cause for concern,” the source said. Blair and Murdoch have denied any impropriety in their relationship, according to the WSJ.