Kushner says met Russians four times, denies collusion
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said yesterday he had contacts with Russian officials four times during his father-in-law Donald Trump’s presidential campaign but denied any collusion, hours before facing grilling by senators as part of the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In a statement he will submit to investigators, Kushner described contacts during last year’s campaign with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and other Russians as routine.
The sprawling probe has plagued the White House since the president took office, with many influential members of Trump’s team having failed to report their contacts with Russian officials. “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner said in the prepared remarks. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector,” Kushner said in the 11-page statement.
The statement was the first time the reticent Kushner - a key figure of Trump’s inner circle who is married to the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka - publicly explained his contacts with Russian officials. “I am not a person who has sought the spotlight,” he said. “Because there has been a great deal of conjecture, speculation, and inaccurate information about me, I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight.” Kushner was testifying in a closed-door meeting before the Senate intelligence committee yesterday. He is scheduled to appear before the House panel today.
A ‘waste of time’
The 36-year-old, working in his first political position, will be asked about meetings with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, the head of a major Russian bank and a Russian lawyer - the latter along with Trump’s son Donald Jr. In his statement Kushner said the June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - which Donald Jr had taken hoping to get dirt on his father’s rival Hillary Clinton - was a “waste of time” He acknowledged a brief meeting with Kislyak in April 2016, and another during his father-in-law’s transition - a meeting also attended by Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s national security advisor but was quickly ousted over his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
“I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations,” Kushner said of the meeting, saying he asked Kislyak who had direct lines to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was open for dialogue. “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. The senior advisor emphasized that he “did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office.”
Kushner said Kislyak recommended meeting with banker Sergey Gorkov - “someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together,” the statement said. Trump’s son-in-law said Gorkov expressed hope for improved US-Russian relations but that no specific polices were discussed.
Kushner said there was no mention of sanctions in his talks with both Kislyak and Gorkov. The topic has made recent headlines as Congress prepares to approve fresh punitive measures against Moscow. The Senate overwhelmingly passed new tough measures in mid-June, and after reaching an agreement the House is set to vote Tuesday on a bill targeting Russia over the suspected campaign meddling as well as its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin has warned such sanctions would be “counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries”.
Special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller is leading the investigation into possible collusion. The House and Senate, however, have organized separate probes. Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign director, are currently negotiating with the Senate Judiciary Committee about when they will appear to give their version of events.
WASHINGTON: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (center) accompanied by his attorney Abbe Lowell (right) arrives on Capitol Hill yesterday to meet behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee.