THE MORNING PLUM:
Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, and what is striking about his extensive opening statement is the degree to which it seeks to insulate Kushner himself from any culpability or responsibility for the problematic known facts about the Russia affair — particularly the known facts that concern Donald Trump Jr.
Kushner’s statement takes exceptional care to separate him, with scalpel-like precision, from the now-notorious meeting that Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer — a meeting that Trump Jr. had been informed would furnish the Trump campaign with information about Hillary Clinton supplied by the Russian government. Here is what Kushner’s statement says about the meeting (emphasis added):
In June 2016, my brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. asked if I was free to stop by a meeting on June 9 at 3:00 p.m. The campaign was headquartered in the same building as his office in Trump Tower, and it was common for each of us to swing by the other’s meetings when requested. He eventually sent me his own email changing the time of the meeting to 4:00 p.m. That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time. As I did with most emails when I was working remotely, I quickly reviewed on my iPhone the relevant message that the meeting would occur at 4:00 PM at his office. Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as “Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner.” No one else was mentioned.
I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of 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. 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 ten or so minutes and wrote “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”
I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted. Finally, after seeing the email, I disclosed this meeting prior to it being reported in the press on a supplement to my security clearance form, even if that was not required as meeting the definitions of the form.
It’s not entirely clear that the “long back and forth” that Kushner claims he “did not read at the time” is the email chain that Trump Jr. released, under duress, which demonstrated that the meeting was taken with the express purpose of getting information advertised as coming from the Russian government. But it seems clear that this is what he is referring to. Note that Kushner does not say one way or the other whether he had been sent this email chain before. What we do know, however, is that Kushner says he never read it. And if Kushner is to be believed, he agreed to, and showed up at, this meeting without having any idea why it was being held.
This, even though Trump Jr. was quite excited about what this meeting might yield (“I love it,” Trump Jr. exulted in the email chain), and even though Trump’s then-campaign chair Paul Manafort was also present. This was a meeting attended by Trump’s top brain trust, on the expectation that it would yield greatly damaging information about Trump’s opponent, just as the campaign was shifting into general election mode — but Kushner was unaware of its purpose.
Also note the exceptional care that went into Kushner’s characterization of the meeting. He claims he arrived just late enough to miss the incriminating part of the meeting. Trump Jr. admitted in his second statement that the Russian lawyer brought up the campaign (after an initial statement claiming the meeting was just about Russian adoptions):
After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton.
Kushner’s statement does not deny outright either that the meeting did address the campaign or that any documents had been offered to the Trump camp, which the email chain appears to confirm. All it does is insulate Kushner from those facts.
It is certainly possible that Kushner’s account is accurate. But these things are now investigable: Efforts can be made to determine whether Kushner had been told of, or discussed, the purpose of the meeting beforehand, and to determine whether he arrived just late enough to miss the part of the meeting that concerned the campaign.
But whatever the truth turns out to be on those fronts, what Kushner’s statement does not do is contest any of the known facts about that meeting — known facts that are deeply problematic for Trump Jr. and even for Trump himself. The meeting, at a minimum, shows that Trump Jr. was eager to collude with the Russian government, which, he had been told, was trying to get his father elected president. Kushner’s statement denies any collusion on his own part, and claims no awareness of any other collusion:
I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.
Of course, what Trump Jr.’s email chain showed is that the campaign jumped at the chance to collude, even if it ended up not happening at that meeting. Recall that Trump Jr.’s original statement covered up the real reason for the meeting, and that President Trump himself reportedly signed off on that initial false statement, which means the president actively participated in an effort to mislead the country about his own campaign’s eagerness to collude with Russia to help him win. Kushner’s statement offers nothing to challenge these underlying facts. It just separates him from them.
* SENATORS DON’T KNOW WHAT HEALTH-CARE BILL THEY’RE VOTING ON: The Wall Street Journal reports that senators will vote as early as tomorrow on a health bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has still not said which one:
Some senators said … McConnell has told them they would know before the vote whether they would be asked to allow debate on some version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or legislation that would repeal the ACA with a two-year expiration date. GOP leaders’ current strategy is to lean heavily on lawmakers to at least vote to allow debate on the bill, in the hopes that amendments and other tweaks could yield an agreement.
So the strategy is to insist senators vote to proceed to debate on … either the most recent Senate bill (which would leave 22 million fewer covered) or repeal-only (32 million fewer).
* THOUSANDS OF NUNS TO OPPOSE REPEAL: USA Today reports that thousands of American nuns have signed a letter opposing the GOP health-care bill:
The Catholic sisters … will deliver their letter Monday and plan to personally visit key Catholic senators to ask them to oppose the health care bill. The letter, organized by NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby and signed by more than 7,000 U.S. sisters, asks senators to vote against any motion to bring up “any bill that would repeal the ACA and cut Medicaid.”
Note that they are asking senators to vote against not just the bill itself, but the motion to proceed to debate.
* TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS ARE AT WAR WITH EACH OTHER: The Post captures all the insanity:
Frustrated lawmakers are increasingly sounding off at a White House awash in turmoil and struggling to accomplish its legislative goals. President Trump is scolding Republican senators over health care and even threatening electoral retribution. Congressional leaders are losing the confidence of their rank and file … The intensifying fights threaten to derail efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax laws and other initiatives that GOP leaders hope will put them back on track.
But Trump tweeted this morning that the problem is the “swamp” and the “Fake News” media. Does Trump ever take responsibility for anything? Ever?
* TRUMP STILL WON’T SAY RUSSIA SABOTAGED ELECTION: On CNN’s “State of the Union,” incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Trump characterized the Russian sabotage of our election this way:
“He called me from Air Force One. And he basically said to me, hey, you know, maybe they did it. Maybe they didn’t do it.”
It was the conclusion of our intelligence services that “they” did do it. And this again raises questions as to whether the administration will act on the IC’s warning that “they” will do it again.
* DEMS ROLL OUT NEW AGENDA: Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) rolls out the Democratic Party’s new agenda, called a “better deal,” and the first three main policy proposals involve drug pricing, antitrust and job training:
We’ve already proposed creating jobs with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan; increasing workers’ incomes by lifting the minimum wage to $15; and lowering household costs by providing paid family and sick leave … We’re going to fight for rules to stop prescription drug price gouging … We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers … We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs.
This has echoes of the runup to the 2006 elections, when Democrats used their minority status to develop a detailed agenda that ultimately helped them recapture control. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi has a new op-ed in the Post laying out the new Dem agenda.
* REPUBLICANS SAY PEOPLE WILL CHOOSE TO BE UNINSURED: Paul Krugman takes on the widespread GOP claim that all those millions who will be uninsured under the GOP bill will choose that fate:
The Senate bill would degrade the quality of subsidized private insurance, leading to a huge rise in deductibles. Current law provides enough in subsidies that an individual with an income of $26,500 can afford a plan covering 70 percent of medical expenses, which, the C.B.O. estimates, implies an $800 deductible. The Senate bill reduces that standard of coverage to 58 percent, which would raise the implied deductible to $13,000, making the insurance effectively useless. Would deciding not to buy that useless insurance really be a “choice”?
As always, those courageous ideological warriors simply refuse to forthrightly defend their own actual policy goals.
* AND TRUMP’S VOTE SUPPRESSION COMMISSION IS BUILT ON A LIE: E.J. Dionne Jr. reminds us that Trump’s vote suppression commission was originally created to validate his lie that millions voted illegally:
Trump’s defenders could find no plausible way to support his statement, which is not unusual. But Trump never backs off from a falsehood. So instead, he did something without precedent: He appointed a presidential commission solely to justify an offhand lie. And now that this body exists, it will almost certainly try to find ways to rationalize purging legitimate voters from the rolls and erecting yet more barriers to voting.
Also note that the original lie is itself the result of Trump’s refusal to accept the actual popular vote outcome. Which means this commission exists because of Trump’s sneaking dread of his illegitimacy.