De­fi­ant Kush­ner says Rus­sia charges de­vised to ridicule Trump back­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAN BOYLAN

In a lengthy and de­tailed re­but­tal, White House aide and pres­i­den­tial sonin-law Jared Kush­ner made a pub­lic and pri­vate dec­la­ra­tion of his in­no­cence and said the charges of Rus­sian col­lu­sion with the Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign were in­tended solely to ridicule the pres­i­dent’s mil­lions of sup­port­ers.

In an 11-page pub­lic state­ment and in hours of closed-door tes­ti­mony on Capi­tol Hill, Mr. Kush­ner cat­e­gor­i­cally re­jected claims that he had tapped Rus­sian fi­nanc­ing for his real es­tate busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties, at­tempted to cre­ate a back-door com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel with Moscow or failed to prop­erly re­port con­tacts with key Rus­sian of­fi­cials when com­plet­ing his U.S. gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity clear­ance ap­pli­ca­tion.

Echo­ing his fa­ther-in-law, Mr. Kush­ner sug­gested that the Rus­sia col­lu­sion charges were re­ac­tions of the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents try­ing to ex­plain how they lost the elec­tion.

“Let me be very clear: I did not col­lude with Rus­sia, nor do I know of any­one else in the cam­paign who did so,” Mr. Kush­ner told re­porters just out­side the White House af­ter com­plet­ing his tes­ti­mony with staffers of the Sen­ate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

“Don­ald Trump had a bet­ter mes­sage and ran a smarter cam­paign, and that is why he won. Sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise ridicules those who voted for him,” Mr. Kush­ner said.

He faces more ques­tion­ing last Tues­day when he meets pri­vately with the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

With famed Wash­ing­ton power lawyer Abbe Low­ell now over­see­ing his le­gal team, Mr. Kush­ner laid out a com­pre­hen­sive de­fense of his ac­tions while por­tray­ing him­self as a new­comer to par­ti­san pol­i­tics caught up in the whirl­wind of Mr. Trump’s in­sur­gent and un­con­ven­tional cam­paign.

All day, the Capi­tol buzzed with law­mak­ers, lawyers and pun­dits of all par­ties de­bat­ing and di­gest­ing his 11-page, 3,700word state­ment.

Writ­ten to de­bunk many of the most sting­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of col­lu­sion, Mr. Kush­ner’s words di­rectly ad­dressed four Rus­sian gath­er­ings, in­clud­ing the June 2016 meet­ing he at­tended be­tween Don­ald Trump Jr., the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son, and Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya, who promised dam­ag­ing ma­te­rial on Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton. Trump cam­paign chief Paul Manafort was also present at the meet­ing, held at Trump Tower in New York City.

Mr. Kush­ner wrote that he ar­rived late and quickly found the gath­er­ing “time not well-spent.” He said he even texted an aide to call him and give him an ex­cuse to leave.

De­scrib­ing the thrilling, con­fus­ing pace of Mr. Trump’s stun­ning pri­mary vic­tory, fol­lowed by the gen­eral elec­tion win, Mr. Kush­ner fre­quently noted his own novice po­lit­i­cal skills and the steep learn­ing curve — which also cre­ated a “nim­ble cam­paign cul­ture” well-suited to tackle “ever-chang­ing cir­cum­stances and make changes on the fly.”

At one point dur­ing the cam­paign swirl, Mr. Trump gave him pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for “fi­nance, sched­ul­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, speech­writ­ing, polling, data and dig­i­tal teams” — cam­paign tasks he said he had never per­formed be­fore.

The grind caused sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. Ac­cused of col­lud­ing with Rus­sian of­fi­cials to aid Mr. Trump and tear down Mrs. Clin­ton, Mr. Kush­ner wrote, “I could not even re­mem­ber the name of [Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak].”

Mr. Kush­ner wrote that he and the Rus­sian en­voy never ad­dressed eco­nomic sanc­tions, nor did they speak of es­tab­lish­ing a se­cret back chan­nel for com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In­stead, they con­sid­ered more pro­duc­tive ap­proaches to the Syr­ian con­flict. He said one of his cam­paign jobs was to meet with for­eign of­fi­cials try­ing to es­tab­lish re­la­tion­ships with the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

Re­gard­ing claims that his stand­ing as a ma­jor New York real es­tate player bled into a meet­ing with Krem­lin-con­nected banker Sergei Gorkov on Dec. 12, Mr. Kush­ner said he met the banker at the re­quest of Mr. Kislyak and that the dis­cus­sion was vague and lim­ited. He said they never spoke again.

The FBI has re­port­edly scru­ti­nized Mr. Gorkov’s busi­ness Vneshe­conom­bank, which is known as a U.S.-sanc­tioned bank that fi­nances Krem­lin pet projects.

Guc­cifer email

In an­other rev­e­la­tion, Mr. Kush­ner also wrote about a ref­er­ence to Guc­cifer 2.0 — the anony­mous hacker who claimed credit for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee’s com­puter hack. A Guc­cifer400 sent him a “ran­dom email” and at­tempted to ex­tort 52 bit­coins in ex­change for not pub­lish­ing Mr. Trump’s tax de­tails. Mr. Kush­ner said he never replied.

Ad­dress­ing omis­sions on his orig­i­nal se­cu­rity clear­ance ap­pli­ca­tion, Mr. Kush­ner said the doc­u­ment was sub­mit­ted pre­ma­turely and ini­tially failed to list not only Rus­sian but all for­eign con­tacts. He sub­mit­ted a sup­ple­men­tal form that he said dis­closed more than 100 con­tacts from more than 20 coun­tries.

“These in­cluded meet­ings with in­di­vid­u­als such as Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah II, Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Bibi Ne­tanyahu, Mex­ico’s Sec­re­tary of For­eign Af­fairs, Luis Vide­garay Caso and many more,” he wrote.

The reclu­sive Mr. Kush­ner, who is mar­ried to Mr. Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka, be­gan a drama-filled day, which in­cluded ha­rass­ment from a pro­tester with a Rus­sian flag, by spend­ing more than two hours at the Capi­tol field­ing ques­tions be­hind closed doors from a Sen­ate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee hear­ing con­vened solely to scru­ti­nize his Rus­sian con­nec­tions.

Known for avoid­ing the me­dia, Mr. Kush­ner pushed his ar­gu­ments across mul­ti­ple plat­forms, in­clud­ing ex­ten­sive pre­pared re­marks re­leased be­fore his Sen­ate hear­ing, in ad­di­tion to his first White House press ap­pear­ance. He did not take ques­tions af­ter read­ing his state­ment.

Late last Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Trump said he was proud of his son-in-law for giv­ing the vol­un­tary tes­ti­mony.

“He thought Jared did a great job and was very glad that he was able to go through that process and lay ev­ery­thing out,” White House press sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders told re­porters trav­el­ing with the pres­i­dent aboard Air Force One.

She said Mr. Kush­ner was able to “show the mem­bers of that com­mit­tee as well as ev­ery­body else what a witch hunt and hoax this whole thing re­ally is.”

The top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, put pub­lic pres­sure on her Repub­li­can coun­ter­part, com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, to in­vite At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to tes­tify be­fore law­mak­ers to an­swer ques­tions about his in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Kislyak and ad­dress dis­crep­an­cies be­tween their ac­counts.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, said mem­bers will have a lot of ques­tions for Mr. Kush­ner dur­ing his hear­ing.

There was also dis­cus­sion that the state­ment failed to ad­dress Mr. Kush­ner’s cam­paign role over­see­ing so­cial me­dia. Some in the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies be­lieve Rus­sia could have ex­ploited this win­dow by pump­ing fake news sto­ries at po­ten­tial Trump vot­ers.

Ear­lier this month, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Vir­ginia, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Sen­ate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, said he wanted to ex­plore the is­sue.

Le­gal an­a­lysts said the se­cre­tive Mr. Kush­ner’s pub­lic ap­proach was strik­ing, and some said the strat­egy re­flected Mr. Low­ell’s in­flu­ence.

Mr. Low­ell has de­fended nu­mer­ous high-pro­file clients and served as chief coun­sel to House Democrats dur­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Clin­ton.

Mr. Kush­ner was the first top Trump lieu­tenant to be ques­tioned by law­mak­ers in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sia’s med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Don­ald Trump Jr. and Mr. Trump’s for­mer cam­paign man­ager, Paul Manafort, who was also at the June 2016 meet­ing, were sched­uled to tes­tify be­fore the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee this week.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

White House se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner in­sisted pub­licly and pri­vately that he did not tap Rus­sian fi­nanc­ing for his real es­tate busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties or at­tempt to cre­ate a back­door com­mu­ni­ca­tions chan­nel with Moscow.

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