After his meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff Monday, Jared Kushner gave a brief statement outside the White House. “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner told reporters. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses.”
President Trump’s son-in-law then went on to claim he had been “fully transparent in providing all requested information.”
But his unchallenged statements hardly spell the end of the matter. Kushner will be testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday. In coming weeks, both the Senate Intelligence Committee members and the Senate Judiciary Committee likely will be drilling down further into the meaning and nuance of Kushner’s 11-page written statement.
Kushner seemed to suggest his statements settle many complex questions. Instead, they raise more questions than they answer.
This is in part because the ACLU has pressed both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees to hold open, public hearings with Trump campaign and administration witnesses. But so far, all of these will be closed door sessions. The committee members appear to believe closed hearings limit grandstanding. But the public will not to get to hear Kushner’s version of events subjected to scrutiny.
“Although the statement addresses many of the areas of concern, it’s only his version and his views of what happened, and that doesn’t leave room for additional questions, for probing questions, for exploring whether there’s any wiggle room in some of his statements,” Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office, told me today.
Here are five questions that will likely pique lawmakers investigative interest, following Kushner’s written statement:
How did then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak end up at the Trump campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016?
Kushner has been facing criticism for meeting with Kislyak during this campaign event and then omitting it from his application for his security clearance. Although he amended the application to include this and 100 other contacts with foreign individuals, the Kislyak meeting has continued to provoke interest. But in his written testimony, Kushner dismissed the criticism. He did acknowledge that he met four foreign ambassadors, including Kisylak, at this event where candidate Trump gave a major foreign policy address. Kushner wrote that he thanked them for attending and told them he “hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy.” But Kushner also wrote that meeting Kislyak was so inconsequential to him that he had forgotten the Russian’s name.
Still, lawmakers are likely to drill down into why Kushner would have even wanted to engage the Russian ambassador about Trump’s “fresh approach” at a time that Russia was under U.S. sanctions stemming from its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea and human rights violations. As former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told MSNBC this afternoon, “the more fundamental question is why Kislyak was at the event in the first place.” If the Trump foreign policy speech was for American voters’ edification, why would he want the ambassador of a foreign adversary there?
What did Kushner really know about the June, 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer?
Kushner’s statement claimed that he did not know what the purpose of the meeting with the Russian lawyer was. He claimed he had received the email chain about the meeting from his brother-in-law, Donald J. Trump, Jr., but said he had only read the portion at the top of it, which set the meeting’s timing. But the subject line of the email chain was: “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” Did he not see that subject line?
What’s more, Kushner also claimed he attended the meeting, but quickly tired of it after finding they were discussing adoptions. But if he was as busy as he claims he was — he said he received 200 emails a day — wouldn’t he have spent more time assessing whether the meeting was worth attending? Is it really credible that the whole Trump brain trust would have attended a meeting promising dirt about Hillary Clinton without Kushner knowing why the meeting was happening?
What, precisely, did Kushner understand about “secure lines” for communicating with Russian officials?
In May, The Post reported that during the transition period, Kushner, in a meeting with then-incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn, had proposed to Kislyak establishing “a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.” In his written statement, Kushner denied suggesting a “secret back channel.” He said he asked Kislyak to identify a Russian official “with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his president” and appeared open to using, in his words, “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.”
But why would Kushner seek to circumvent longstanding diplomatic protocols in place for discussions between the two countries? Why, given that transition officials had already warned Flynn about communicating with Kislyak, because his communications were likely being intercepted by Russian intelligence, would he be communicating with Kislyak himself?
What does it mean that Kushner did not “rely” on “Russian funds” for his businesses?
Questions have been raised about whether Kushner sought financing from Russian sources for his businesses and whether that might have led Kushner or the Trump campaign to be compromised. In his remarks to reporters Monday, Kushner maintained, “I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses.” But as Anders pointed out, does “Russian funds” mean money from the Russian government, or Russian oligarchs, or something else? As many Americans have learned, often the line between the Russian government and Russian oligarchs is blurred. And when he says, “rely” does he mean it was essential to his business, as in, it could not survive without it? Could that mean he still did business with Russian entities, even if his businesses were not dependent on it?
In any case, it is crucial for the public to fully understand the scope of Kushner’s statements about doing business (or not) with Russians. Without a more complete understanding, questions will remain about whether Kushner placed himself, the campaign, or even the country in a position to be under pressure from Russian actors.
Speaking of Russian funds, what about that meeting with a Russian banker?
This spring, we learned that after Kushner held that early December meeting in Trump Tower with Kislyak and Flynn, he met with a Putin-linked chairman of VneshEconomBank, which was under U.S. sanctions, sparking scrutiny about whether there were discussions about the possibility of the Trump administration lifting sanctions or even about Kushner pursuing business discussions with the banker. In March, when CNN broke this story, it reported that the banker, Sergey Gorkov, has close ties to Putin, and is a graduate of the “Russian academy of Federal Security Service, which trains people to work in Russia’s intelligence and security forces.” Kushner said in his written statement that he met with Gorkov at Kislyak’s insistence, and that they did not discuss U.S. sanctions on Russia or Kushner’s own businesses.
But questions here abound: Why would Kushner feel compelled to take this meeting just because Kislyak had been insistent upon it? And did he realize, at the time or later, who Gorkov was, and why he might have wanted a meeting with the president-elect’s son-in-law?