Report: FBI warned Kushner on Murdoch's ex-wife

US officials were concerned ex-wife of media magnate was lobbying to push Chinese-funded construction project in Washington

(FILES) This file photo taken on January 21, 2016 shows producer Wendi Deng Murdoch  in Park City, Utah.
US counterintelligence officials warned President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in early 2017 that Chinese-American businesswoman Wendi Deng Murdoch might be using their friendship to benefit Chinese government interests, The Wall Street Journal reported on January 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Valerie MACON
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Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on Tuesday refuted claims that Wendi Deng Murdoch had used their longstanding friendship "to further the interests of the Chinese government".

The former wife of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch lobbied the couple over a garden project in Washington that was funded by Beijing, leading US intelligence officials to advise  Mr Kushner that it could amount to espionage, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The claim concerns a $100 million Chinese garden at the National Arboretum, which includes a 21-metre tall white tower. Fearing that the tower would be used for surveillance at a location close to both the Capitol and the White House, US counter intelligence agencies have stopped the project.

While confirming the meeting between Mr Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump, and US intelligence officials early in 2017, a representative denied the Journal's report, insisting the relationship with Mr Murdoch's ex-wife is years old, more personal than political, and has nothing to do with China.

The couple had "been friends with Rupert and Wendi Murdoch for a decade before coming to Washington and their relationship is neither political nor about China," Mr Kushner's representative said, describing the contact with US intelligence officials as a "routine senior staff security briefing."  Mr Kushner, he added, "has complied with all ethics and disclosure recommendations and has played a helpful role in strengthening the US-China relationship so as to help bring about a better resolution to the many issues the countries have."

Ms. Murdoch and the news mogul divorced in 2013 after 14 years of marriage. On social media, Ms Murdoch  - who kept her married name - posted photos from Jared Kushner's birthday party in 2016 and President Trump's inauguration.

January 2016 and January 2017

A spokesman for Ms. Murdoch said she "has no knowledge of any FBI concerns or other intelligence agency concerns relating to her or her associations" or "of any garden projects funded by the Chinese government."

But speculation that Ms Murdoch could be a spy for the Chinese government only grew after the report. Michael Wolff, author of the bestseller Fire and Fury about the Trump presidency, tweeted after the Journal report appeared : "Since their divorce, [Rupert] Murdoch has been telling anybody who would listen that Wendi is a Chinese spy -- and had been throughout the marriage."

An alleged affair between Ms Murdoch and former British prime minister Tony Blair triggered the divorce. Later, rumours surfaced about another affair between Ms Murdoch, now 49, and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr Blair and Ms Murdoch have denied any misconduct.

In his book, Mr Wolff details relations between the Kushners and the Murdochs, and how Jared helped his father-in-law, Mr Trump, improve his rapport with the news titan after winning the White House in 2016.

US intelligence agencies regularly brief American officials about ties to foreign companies and entities, on account of potential threats to national security.

According to the Journal, the 12-acre project that Ms. Murdoch was lobbying for, would "feature a lake and multiple gardens and structures that could be used to host cultural programs." In October 2016 then president Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping finalised the agreement in a groundbreaking ceremony." But it "has since been shelved because of the counterintelligence concerns, according to people familiar with the national-security issues" the report added.

Both Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have worked on improving US relations with China, and their six-year-old daughter Arabella Rose speaks Mandarin.  The Kushner family real estate company also has business in China, "holding advanced talks with Anbang Insurance Group Co. for an investment of as much as $1.25 billion in a New York real-estate project" as reported in the Journal. The talks broke off in March 2017.

Mr Kushner was last seen with Ms Murdoch in November, during the US president's trip to Asia.

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