Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!
*Trump son-in-law gives testimony to Senate committee behind closed doors;
*Kushner: meeting with Donald Trump Jr and Russian lawyer ‘a waste of time’.
Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has insisted he “did not collude” with Russia during the presidential election, and dismissed the significance of a meeting with Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer.
In an 11-page statement released early on Monday before his appearance in front of the Senate intelligence committee, Kushner claimed he had four contacts with Russian officials during the presidential election and transition, but said they were part of his role as a Trump campaign point man for foreign governments.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner wrote. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
He also denied media reports that he tried to set up a secret back channel to Moscow, although his explanation is likely to raise more questions than answers. Kushner did admit that he raised with the Russian ambassador to the US the possibility of using a secure line at the Russian embassy to discuss the crisis in Syria – presumably without the knowledge of Barack Obama’s administration. Kushner reiterated this message in an unorthodox two-minute statement outside the White House on Monday afternoon after finishing his Senate testimony.
“I did not collude with Russia, nor did I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” he said. “I had no improper contacts. I did not rely on Russian funds for my business.”
Married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and a hugely influential presence in the White House, Kushner is under scrutiny as part of two congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election, including the question of whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow. Special counsel Robert Mueller is carrying out a separate investigation. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the efforts as a “witch-hunt”.
Kushner’s testimony was submitted for the record before he began answering questions from the Senate intelligence committee on Monday and House intelligence committee on Tuesday, both behind closed doors (Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!).
In the statement, the 36-year-old Kushner, a property millionaire, portrayed himself as “not a person who has sought the spotlight” but as someone who found his responsibilities growing in a campaign that had “a nimble culture” and was able to “make changes on the fly”. He acknowledged two contacts with Russian officials during the campaign but maintained he had “nothing to hide”.
Emails released earlier this month show that the president’s son, Trump Jr, accepted a meeting Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016 expecting to receive “incriminating” information about Hillary Clinton via the Russian government. The email chain had the subject heading “Russian – Clinton – private and confidential”. Kushner said in his statement that Trump Jr invited him to the meeting and reminded him of the time change to 4pm.
“That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time,” he writes. “Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as ‘Meeting: Don Jr | Jared Kushner.’ No one else was mentioned.”
He arrived late, he continued, and Veselnitskaya was talking about a ban on American families adopting Russian children.
“I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well spent at this meeting,” he wrote.
“Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for 10 or so minutes and wrote: ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.’”
His statement added: “No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.”
Kushner wrote that his first meeting with a Russian official was in April 2016 at the Mayflower hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered a major foreign policy speech. He was introduced to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a reception but their interaction was brief, he claimed.
“With all the ambassadors, including Mr Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election.
“Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
Kushner denied any other contact with Kislyak during the campaign in the statement, contradicting media reports that he had had two phone calls with the ambassador. He did acknowledge meeting Kislyak at Trump Tower in December, during the transition, but claimed the conversation was about policy in Syria and denied reports that he discussed setting up a secret back channel. The meeting was also attended by retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn, who would become the president’s national security adviser before being forced to resign.
“I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations,” Kushner wrote. “Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his president.
“The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after election day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before election day.”
Kushner said that when Kislyak asked if there was a secure line for him to provide information on Syria from his “generals”, Kushner asked if there was an existing communications channel at the embassy that could be used. He wrote that Kislyak said “that would not be possible” and they agreed to wait until after the inauguration to receive the information.
“I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel’,” Kushner wrote. “I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period.”
The second transition-period meeting Kushner said he had with Russians was on 13 December, when he sat down with Sergey Gorkov, a banker with “a direct line to the Russian president”, as a courtesy to Kislyak. Their meeting lasted 20 to 25 minutes, Kushner wrote, and Gorkov presented two gifts – a work of art and a bag of dirt from Nvgorod, his family’s ancestral village in Belarus. But Kushner wrote that “no specific policies were discussed” (Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!).
Kushner’s financial disclosure forms did not originally include the meetings with Russian officials. He blamed this on an honest mistake made by his assistant at the time. At one point in the statement, Kushner wrote that on 30 October 2016 he received an email from “Guccifer400”, who “threatened to reveal candidate Trump’s tax returns and demanded that we send him 52 bitcoins in exchange for not publishing that information.
“I brought the email to the attention of a US secret service agent on the plane we were all travelling 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.”
Kushner’s behind-closed-doors meeting with the Senate intelligence committee lasted nearly two and a half hours. He emerged from the room in the Hart building on Capitol Hill just before 12.30pm and smiled warmly at reporters but declined to take questions. Then, anti-Trump protester Ryan Clayton leaped out from the throng and thrust a Russian flag at Kushner while yelling at him. Police rammed Clayton back against a wall as Kushner kept walking. Clayton is president of the anti-Trump group Americans Take Action, which is campaigning for the president’s impeachment (Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!).
Clayton said he had read Kushner’s statement. “I think he’s a liar and everyone who reads that statement knows he is a liar. He is communicating through secret back channels with agents of the Russian government; we all know it. Why does everyone in the White House have all these connections to Russia?
“Why isn’t it they have some connections to Switzerland or Germany? They all have connections to Russia. Why is that? Is that just a coincidence? Do they think the American people are that stupid? Because I don’t. I think we all have common sense and understand that the preponderance of evidence suggests that this election was stolen by agents of the Russian government, that the Trump campaign was complicit in it.”
Clayton said he had flown to Washington from the midwest on Sunday night. Midway through an interview with the Guardian, he was hauled away by police. The Senate judiciary committee had planned to interview Trump Jr and former campaign manager Paul Manafort on Wednesday, but this has been postponed indefinitely while negotiations with their lawyers continue (Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!).
The Russia investigations have cast a shadow over the White House and consumed Trump’s attention. In a tweet on Monday, he did not mention Kushner directly but once again tried to deflect scrutiny on to election rival Hillary Clinton: “So why aren’t the committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered AG, looking into crooked Hillary’s crimes and Russia relations?”
The reference to “beleaguered AG” concerned Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, whom Trump criticised last week for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Earlier on Monday the president also tweeted: “After one year of investigation with zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that ‘Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia.’” (Jared Kushner Confirms Russia Meetings But Insists: ‘I DID NOT COLLUDE’!).