Kushner details Russia talks
Investigators hear defense of meetings
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.
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
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.