By Philip Rucker and Karoun Demirjian,
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, spent about two hours Monday answering questions from Senate investigators about his contacts with Russian officials, insisting he had not colluded with foreign agents before or after the 2016 presidential campaign.
After his closed-door questioning, Kushner spoke briefly to reporters outside the White House.
“Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner said. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.”
“Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying I was eager to share whatever information I have with investigating bodies and I have done so today,’’ he said. “All of my actions were proper.’’
He dismissed outright the idea that Russia could be responsible for his father in law’s election victory.
“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,’’ Kushner said.
In written remarks made public prior to his committee questioning, Kushner denied any improper contacts or collusion. The 11-page statement by Kushner detailed four meetings he had with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and transition period — including one set up by Donald Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer.
Kushner defended his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and other Russian officials as typical contacts in his role as the Trump campaign’s liaison to foreign governments, according to the prepared statement.
Kushner answered questions behind closed doors to the Senate committee on Monday, and is scheduled to do so again Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee. Both panels are probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials and associates.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government orchestrated a far-reaching campaign to meddle with last year’s presidential campaign and influence the outcome in Trump’s favor.
Kushner’s appearances before congressional committees mark a new phase in the investigations of Russian meddling, as he is the first of the president’s closest advisers to appear before them.
In his written remarks submitted to the congressional committees, Kushner said he has had only “limited contacts” with Russian representatives and denies any wrongdoing.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner wrote. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
Kushner portrayed himself as a goal-oriented task master new to presidential politics who assumed increasingly important responsibilities on a fast-paced campaign in which decisions were made “on the fly,” including serving as the main point of contact for foreign government officials.
Kushner wrote that his first meeting with a Russian official was in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered a major foreign policy speech, the execution of which Kushner says 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 Kislyak, Kushner says.
“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” Kushner wrote. “The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
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.
“While I participated in thousands of calls during this period, I do not recall any such calls with the Russian Ambassador,” Kushner wrote. “We have reviewed the phone records available to us and have not been able to identify any calls to any number we know to be associated with Ambassador Kislyak and I am highly skeptical these calls took place.”
In fact, Kushner noted that on Nov. 9, the day after the election, when the campaign received a congratulatory note from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kushner tried to verify it was real and could not remember Kislyak’s name. “So I sent an email asking Mr. Simes, ‘What is the name of the Russian ambassador?’ ” Kushner wrote.
Kushner also describes attending a June 2016 meeting organized by his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., with a Russian attorney. He says it was listed on his calendar as “Meeting: Don Jr. | Jared Kushner.” He writes that he arrived at the meeting late, and when he got there the Russian lawyer was talking about a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
“I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting,” Kushner wrote. “Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for 10 or so minutes and wrote, ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.’ ”
Kushner wrote that he received a “random email” on Oct. 30, 2016, 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.”
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.”
Kushner also detailed two interactions with Russian officials during the transition period, before Trump was sworn in as president on Jan. 20. The first, on Dec. 1, was a meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower in New York, which retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who would become the president’s national security adviser, also attended.
“I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations,” Kushner wrote. “Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. 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 wrote that Kislyak addressed U.S. policy in Syria and wanted to “convey information from what he called his ‘generals’ ” but that they could not come to the United States and “he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation.”
Kushner said he or Flynn explained there were no such lines, and that Kushner asked Kislyak if the Russians had “an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.” He wrote that Kislyak said “that would not be possible” and they agreed to wait until after the inauguration to receive the information.
The Washington Post first reported in May on Kushner and Kislyak’s discussions about establishing a secret communications channel, though Kushner suggested in his testimony that the channel would have been for the purpose of this one meeting as opposed to establishing a “secret back channel.”
“I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel,’ ” Kushner wrote. “I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period.”
The second transition-period meeting Kushner said he had with Russians was on Dec. 13, when Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, a banker with “a direct line to the Russian President,” at the urging of Kislyak. On Dec. 6, the Russian Embassy asked Kushner to meet with Kislyak on Dec. 7, and Kushner declined, he wrote. They asked if he could meet on Dec. 6 and Kushner declined again, he wrote. Kislyak then requested a meeting with Kushner’s assistant — “and, to avoid offending the Ambassador, I agreed,” Kushner wrote.
Kislyak and Kushner’s assistant, whom Kushner did not name in his testimony, met on Dec. 12, where Kislyak requested that Kushner meet with Gorkov, “who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.”
Kushner agreed to meet Gorkov, making room in his schedule for him the next day. Their meeting lasted 20 to 25 minutes, Kushner wrote, and Gorkov presented two gifts — a piece of art from Nvgorod, the village where Kushner’s grandparents were from in Belarus, and a bag of dirt from there. Kushner then gave the gifts to his assistant and asked him to formally register them with the transition office.
During the meeting, Kushner wrote, Gorkov told him about his bank and discussed the Russian economy, expressing “disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations under President Obama and hopes for a better relationship in the future.” Kushner wrote that “no specific policies were discussed,” including sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
At the end of his testimony, Kushner offered an explanation for failing to disclose all of his foreign government contacts on his SF-86 application for security clearance. He wrote that his form was “prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication and initially did not list any contacts (not just with Russians) with foreign government officials.”
Kushner described a frenzied period disentangling from his real estate business and moving his family to Washington during which a “rough draft” of his form was submitted by his assistant because of a “miscommunication.” Kushner wrote that the initial submission omitted “all foreign contacts” and that a supplemental submission disclosed more than 100 contacts from more than 20 countries.