U.S. officials warned Jared Kushner earlier this year that his friendship with Wendi Deng Murdoch could be used as a conduit by the Chinese government, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
Unnamed sources told the outlet that counterintelligence officials had warned Kushner that Murdoch, a Chinese-American businesswoman who was married to News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, could leverage her close relationship with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to push the interests of the Chinese government.
The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.
Among U.S. officials’ reported concerns was a proposed garden in Washington, D.C., funded by the Chinese government. The $100 million project has reportedly been declared a national security risk due to a tall tower that’s part of the design, which intelligence officials worry could be used for surveillance.
Murdoch’s spokesman told the Journal that she “has absolutely no knowledge of any garden projects funded by the Chinese government.”
The outlet notes that no one has been accused of wrongdoing, but said officials gave the warning “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.”
The meeting was described as a “routine senior staff security briefing.”
It’s unclear what, if any, reason officials had to single Murdoch out in their warning to Kushner or why they suspect her interests are not aligned with those of the United States. There is a long history of Chinese-Americans being falsely accused of working for China.
China’s embassy in Washington pushed back against the assertions made in the article, and told HuffPost the story was “full of groundless and completely false information.” The embassy said both China and the U.S. had been working toward the completion of the garden for years.
“We do not comment on the internal affairs of the U.S., but it seems that some people have wild imagination[s],” the embassy said in a statement. “The fact is, over the years, the two governments have been working very hard to make continuous progress on the project in a transparent manner.”
Michael Wolff, the author of a controversial expose on the first year inside the Trump administration and a 2008 book about Rupert Murdoch, alluded on Twitter that the News Corp. executive chairman has made claims similar to those from U.S. intelligence officials in the Journal’s piece for years. Wolff has often drawn the displeasure of those he’s profiled but has also been praised for his unfettered access to his subjects.
Marcus Brauchli, a former managing editor of the Journal, also expressed skepticism about the warning officials gave Kushner, noting that American “counterintelligence has slurred people before with flimsy suspicions, especially those people with ties to China.”
Kushner and his wife have long been friends with Murdoch. In 2016, Ivanka Trump posted several photos of Murdoch on her Instagram account, including an image of the two traveling together in Croatia.