The Post reports: “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, plans to detail 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 — but will deny any improper contacts or collusion in testimony to a congressional panel on Monday.” Of most interest, he describes the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney, former Russian counterintelligence agent and Russian interpreter:
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 writes. “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 our of meeting.’ ”
Kushner, in this telling, is a distracted, unobservant rube. He apparently did not recall the email heading that initiated the meeting (““Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential”). We are asked to believe that he did not understand that the issue of Russia’s ban on adoptions by Americans, a petty act of retaliation for the U.S. passage of human rights sanctions (the Magnitsky Act), was a way to pressure U.S. decision-makers. (Lift the sanctions, and adoptions can resume.) Kushner is not the worldly Boy Wonder in his version, but a distracted dilettante.
As for the discussion with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, Kushner says he agreed to sit down only after the urging of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Was there any consultation with U.S. authorities? Any research into the identity of Gorkov and/or his sanctioned bank? If so, Kushner does not say. And — weirdly — he claims nothing much was discussed.
The meeting at which Kushner suggested use of Russian facilities to transmit information is even odder:
Kushner writes 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 continues that he or [Michael] 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 writes that Kislyak said “that would not be possible” and they agreed to wait until after the inauguration to receive the information.
None of this makes much sense. Kushner could have gone through official U.S. channels if he needed a secure line. He could have told Kislyak that any information could be relayed through Russian diplomats like himself. Was Kislyak trying to play Kushner — to get Kushner to operate far from the eyes of intelligence agencies — or was Kushner trying his best to avoid established lines of communication?
“With the Trump team, Russia saw not only a candidate and President-elect open to their views but a campaign and transition team ripe for penetration by diplomatic, intelligence and economic levers,” says Clinton Watts, former FBI special agent and now senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Kushner’s friendly relationships with Russian business interests and inexperience in foreign policy and governance brought about multiple, unprecedented meetings with a nation that simultaneously attacked American elections on behalf of Trump.”
Collectively, one certainly gets the impression that Russians were trying to pressure and influence the political neophyte, playing to his ego as a solo operator and on his unfamiliarity with how national security matters are normally discussed. His defense appears to be that he was so naive and oblivious he didn’t know what was going on — and then so memory-challenged and sloppy that he did not fill out his security clearance forms accurately. “Kushner’s explanations are plausible and reveal what may be even worse than collusion ultimately: incompetence,” Watts says. “Assuming Kushner’s accounts are correct, these Russian meetings point to the worst fears about a President relying on family loyalty rather than experience to pursue America’s best interests. They are in over the heads, unaware of how American adversaries exploit their vulnerabilities and completely lacking in strategic policy direction.” He adds, “Trump isn’t making America great again, he’s making Russia great again as he unwittingly bows to Russian mastery.”
The danger for Kushner — aside from embarrassment — is that he could be contradicted by one or more witnesses or by electronic surveillance. As for failure to complete his security form accurately, one former intelligence operative says, “Perhaps one time [he makes an error or omission] but multiple times is also ludicrous. The form states at the bottom … you swear all of the above information is true.” He adds, “I’m sure he gets some leeway but I feel that by the time the executive assistant is pulled in to testify we will get an entirely different story.”
If not evidence of malicious deception, the story reveals a young man who is in over his head and out of his depth to such a degree that he does not know he is in over his head and out of his depth. The thought of summoning people who actually knew what was going on, checking with the administration as to the background of people with whom he was communicating or showing healthy skepticism about the people who were approaching him never occurred to him? Possible, but what a damning alibi.