Defiant Kushner says Russia charges devised to ridicule Trump backers
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.
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.
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.