Kush­ner de­tails Rus­sia talks

In­ves­ti­ga­tors hear de­fense of meet­ings

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, emerged Mon­day from a pri­vate, two-hour meet­ing with con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors and said his meet­ings last year with Rus­sians were not part of Moscow’s ef­fort to dis­rupt the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“All of my ac­tions were proper and oc­curred in the nor­mal course of events of a very unique cam­paign,” Kush­ner said on the White House grounds af­ter the meet­ing with sen­a­tors. “I did not col­lude with Rus­sians, nor do I know of any­one in the cam­paign who did.”

He said Trump won the elec­tion be­cause he had a bet­ter mes­sage and ran a smarter cam­paign than Hil­lary Clin­ton, not be­cause he had help from Rus­sia.

“Sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise ridicules those who voted for him,” Kush­ner said in brief re­marks. He took no ques­tions from re­porters.

Trump, who watched on TV as Kush­ner made his ap­pear­ance out­side the West Wing, “thought Jared did a great job,” said White House spokesman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders. She said his meet­ing with House in­ves­ti­ga­tors to­day, which also will be pri­vate, will show “what a hoax this en­tire thing is.”

In his pre­pared re­marks to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Kush­ner said he had been un­aware that a June 2016 meet­ing he at­tended at Trump Tower was set up in the hope that a Rus­sian lawyer would pro­vide the Trump cam­paign with dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Clin­ton.

He said he ar­rived at the meet­ing late and had been so un­in­ter­ested in the dis­cus­sion that he emailed his as­sis­tant to ask for her help in giv­ing him an ex­cuse to leave.

Kush­ner, who gave his state­ment to the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Mon­day, said he went to the meet­ing in New York at the re­quest of the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son, Don­ald Trump Jr. Kush­ner said he did not read an email for­warded by Trump Jr. say­ing that the Rus­sian govern­ment was pro­vid­ing dirt about Clin­ton as part of its ef­fort to help the Trump cam­paign.

In his pre­pared re­marks, Kush­ner por­trayed him­self as a goal-ori­ented taskmas­ter new to pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics who as­sumed in­creas­ingly im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on a fast-paced cam­paign in which de­ci­sions were made “on the fly.” Those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­cluded serv­ing as the main point of con­tact for for­eign govern­ment of­fi­cials.

He gave his first ex­pla­na­tion of his con­tacts with Rus­sian govern­ment of­fi­cials and other Krem­lin-con­nected peo­ple over the past year. He ac­knowl­edged that af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tion, he sought a di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin. He char­ac­ter­ized that ac­tion as a rou­tine part of his job in es­tab­lish­ing for­eign con­tacts for Trump’s tran­si­tion team.

In the re­marks, Kush­ner flatly de­nied any col­lu­sion, say­ing: “I had no im­proper con­tacts. I did not col­lude, nor know of any­one else in the cam­paign who col­luded, with any for­eign govern­ment.”

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have con­cluded that Putin au­tho­rized a cam­paign of hack­ing and pro­pa­ganda to try to tip the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor. The Jus­tice Depart­ment and Congress are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether any­one around Trump helped that ef­fort and whether the pres­i­dent has tried to im­pede the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Kush­ner’s pri­vate ap­pear­ance be­fore Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tors Mon­day is the start of an im­por­tant pe­riod in the in­quiry. Kush­ner is also sched­uled to speak to the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee to­day.

Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, the for­mer cam­paign chair­man, are ne­go­ti­at­ing with con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors about when they will ap­pear on Capi­tol Hill.

In his pre­pared re­marks, Kush­ner said his ef­forts dur­ing the tran­si­tion to es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Putin were proof that there were no com­mu­ni­ca­tions with se­nior Krem­lin of­fi­cials dur­ing the cam­paign.

“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.

Kush­ner wrote that his first meet­ing with a Rus­sian of­fi­cial was in April 2016 at the Mayflower Ho­tel in Washington, where Trump de­liv­ered a for­eign pol­icy speech, the ex­e­cu­tion of which Kush­ner said he over­saw. Kush­ner wrote that he at­tended a re­cep­tion to thank the event’s host, Dim­itri Simes, pub­lisher of The Na­tional In­ter­est, a for­eign pol­icy mag­a­zine. Simes in­tro­duced Kush­ner to four am­bas­sadors at the re­cep­tion, in­clud­ing Rus­sian Sergey Kislyak, Kush­ner said.

Kush­ner did not name the other three am­bas­sadors he met at the re­cep­tion, and he de­nied hav­ing had any other con­tact with Kislyak dur­ing the cam­paign, dis­put­ing a re­port by Reuters that he had two phone calls with the am­bas­sador.

Kush­ner said he met with Kislyak in Novem­ber, along with Michael Flynn, a re­tired gen­eral who would be­come Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. Kush­ner said he ex­pressed hope dur­ing the meet­ing that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion would have an im­proved re­la­tion­ship with Moscow, and that he had asked Kislyak whom he should talk to who was in di­rect con­tact with Putin.

Kislyak said “gen­er­als” in Rus­sia had im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to share about Syria, Kush­ner re­called. The United States and Rus­sia are the dom­i­nant proxy pow­ers in Syria’s civil war.

“He asked if there was a se­cure line in the tran­si­tion of­fice to con­duct a con­ver­sa­tion,” Kush­ner said. “Gen­eral Flynn or I ex­plained that there were no such lines. I be­lieved de­vel­op­ing a thought­ful ap­proach on Syria was a very high pri­or­ity given the on­go­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, and I asked if they had an ex­ist­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel at his em­bassy we could use.”

That re­quest, first re­ported by The Washington Post and since con­firmed by for­mer se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials, gen­er­ated sus­pi­cion that Kush­ner was try­ing to avoid U.S. sur­veil­lance. Kush­ner de­nied that. “I did not sug­gest a se­cret back chan­nel,” he said. When Kislyak re­jected the idea of us­ing the Rus­sian Em­bassy, Kush­ner said, they dropped the dis­cus­sion.

He also ac­knowl­edged meet­ing with a Rus­sian banker, Sergey Gorkov, at the re­quest of Kislyak but said no spe­cific poli­cies were dis­cussed.

In an ef­fort to demon­strate how dis­tanced he was from in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy, Kush­ner said in his state­ment that he “could not even re­mem­ber the name of the Rus­sian am­bas­sador” when he wanted to ver­ify an email pur­port­ing to be an of­fi­cial note of con­grat­u­la­tions from Putin on the day af­ter the elec­tion.

Kush­ner also wrote that he re­ceived a “ran­dom email” on Oct. 30 from a screen name “Guc­cifer400,” which he in­ter­preted as “a hoax” that was “an ex­tor­tion at­tempt and threat­ened to re­veal can­di­date Trump’s tax re­turns and de­manded that we send him 52 bit­coins in ex­change for not pub­lish­ing that in­for­ma­tion.”

The screen name is an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Guc­cifer 2.0, an anony­mous hacker who has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for break­ing into the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s com­puter sys­tems.

Kush­ner said he brought the email to the at­ten­tion of a Se­cret Ser­vice agent he was trav­el­ing with, who ad­vised him “to ig­nore it and not to re­ply — which is what I did.”

Con­ver­sa­tions with for­eign of­fi­cials and busi­ness lead­ers are com­mon dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion. But Kush­ner’s meet­ings at­tracted at­ten­tion be­cause he did not im­me­di­ately dis­close them on fed­eral forms re­quired for his se­cu­rity clear­ance. Kush­ner said his staff mem­bers had in­ad­ver­tently filed an in­com­plete form, leav­ing off all for­eign con­tacts — not just Rus­sian ones — as well as other in­for­ma­tion.

Kush­ner’s meet­ing with Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tors was not un­der oath, so it is not tech­ni­cally tes­ti­mony. But Kush­ner is still re­quired to an­swer truth­fully; ly­ing to Congress is a crime.

TRUMP TWEETS

Also on Mon­day, Trump

re­ferred to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions as “be­lea­guered” in a tweet ques­tion­ing why the Jus­tice Depart­ment is not in­ves­ti­gat­ing Clin­ton.

In an in­ter­view last week with The New York Times, Trump said he never would have nom­i­nated Ses­sions if he knew he in­tended to re­cuse him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling and the Trump cam­paign. Those com­ments raised spec­u­la­tion that Ses­sions would quit, but he did not. In­stead, Ses­sions said he would stay on as at­tor­ney gen­eral “as long as that is ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Ses­sions has made it a pri­or­ity to ad­dress vi­o­lence, gangs and drugs — car­ry­ing out Trump’s in­au­gu­ral pledge to end “Amer­i­can car­nage.”

The pres­i­dent vented on var­i­ous sub­jects in a se­ries of tweets Mon­day morn­ing, lash­ing out not only at Ses­sions but also at Democrats and the me­dia, whom he has blamed for hyp­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The first tweet came at 6:40 a.m. in Washington:

“Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer - it’s ac­tu­ally much worse than any­one ever thought, and it be­gins with the Fake News!” he tweeted.

Twelve min­utes later, the pres­i­dent went af­ter Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.:

“Af­ter 1 year of in­ves­ti­ga­tion with Zero ev­i­dence be­ing found, Charles E. Schumer just stated that ‘Democrats should blame our­selves, not Rus­sia.’”

Trump seemed to be re­fer­ring

to a com­ment Schumer made to The Washington Post last week, in which he said: “When you lose to some­body who has 40 per­cent pop­u­lar­ity, you don’t blame other things — [for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James] Comey, Rus­sia — you blame your­self.”

The pres­i­dent at 8:49 a.m. took a swipe at Ses­sions and de­manded to know why Clin­ton, his gen­eral elec­tion ri­val, is not also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated:

“So why aren’t the Com­mit­tees and in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and of course our be­lea­guered A.G., look­ing into Crooked Hil­larys crimes & Rus­sia re­la­tions?”

Twenty-three min­utes af­ter that, the pres­i­dent crit­i­cized Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee:

“Sleazy Adam B. Schiff, the to­tally bi­ased Con­gress­man look­ing into ‘Rus­sia,’ spends all of his time on tele­vi­sion push­ing the Dem loss ex­cuse!”

Six min­utes later, at 9:18 a.m., the pres­i­dent shifted to talk­ing about health care leg­is­la­tion:

“Repub­li­cans have a last chance to do the right thing on Re­peal & Re­place af­ter years of talk­ing & cam­paign­ing on it.” In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Matt Apuzzo, Mag­gie Haberman and Eileen Sul­li­van of The New York Times; by Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Kevin Frek­ing and Vi­vian Salama of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Philip Rucker, Karoun Demir­jian and Jenna John­son of

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MON­SI­VAIS

White House se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner walks away af­ter speak­ing to re­porters out­side the White House on Mon­day af­ter meet­ing on Capi­tol Hill pri­vately with the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

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