Jared Kushner is testifying before Congress on Monday and Tuesday. And while you won't see it because it's happening behind closed doors, he has now released an extensive, 11-page statement addressing four known contacts with Russians.
The statement's big takeaway is a firm denial that Kushner was aware of any collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” he writes.
It's a dense, lengthy, prepared statement, but given Kushner hasn't really addressed the Russia accusations previously — because he hardly ever speaks publicly — I'm pulling out the relevant parts and parsing each one for what they tell us about his versions of events.
“The record and documents I am providing will show that I had perhaps four contacts with Russian representatives out of thousands during the campaign and transition, none of which were impactful in any way to the election or particularly memorable. … I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.”
This is, notably, a less firm denial than we've seen previously from the Trump campaign and the White House. While President Trump and those around him have said there was no collusion, period, Kushner says instead that he himself didn't collude and wasn't aware of anyone else who did. That leaves open the possibility that it happened without his awareness.
Kushner also addresses two related controversies: (1) a Washington Post report that his business and finances were being looked at in the Russia probe, and (2) that he initially failed to disclose contacts with Russians and other foreign governments on his SF-86 security clearance from.
“I am not a person who has sought the spotlight. First in my business and now in public service, I have worked on achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception. Because there has been a great deal of conjecture, speculation, and inaccurate information about me, I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight.”
Kushner is arguably the most mysterious figure in the White House, in large part because he rarely speaks in public. His first public appearance, in fact, was in mid-June, five months into the new administration. As noted above, that dearth of public comments make this statement a rare window into his dealings with Russians.
“Over the course of the primaries and general election campaign, my role continued to evolve. I ultimately worked with the finance, scheduling, communications, speechwriting, polling, data and digital teams, as well as becoming a point of contact for foreign government officials. All of these were tasks that I had never performed on a campaign previously. … Our nimble culture allowed us to adjust to the ever-changing circumstances and make changes on the fly as the situation warranted. I share this information because these actions should be viewed through the lens of a fast-paced campaign with thousands of meetings and interactions, some of which were impactful and memorable and many of which were not.”
Kushner seems to be offering a couple excuses here: (1) I have never been involved in a campaign before, and (2) I was inundated with stuff happening around me. Why does he need excuses? Because he initially failed to disclose his meetings with Russians and says he can't recall many details. It's not unusual for congressional testimony about past events to be peppered with plenty of “I don't recalls” (see: Clinton, Hillary). Kushner will join that tradition Monday and Tuesday, apparently, arguing that his contacts with Russians simply weren't memorable enough to remember.
“When it became apparent that my father-in-law was going to be the Republican nominee for President, as normally happens, a number of officials from foreign countries attempted to reach out to the campaign. My father-in-law asked me to be a point of contact with these foreign countries. These were not contacts that I initiated, but, over the course of the campaign, I had incoming contacts with people from approximately 15 countries. To put these requests in context, I must have received thousands of calls, letters and emails from people looking to talk or meet on a variety of issues and topics, including hundreds from outside the United States.”
It's notable here that Kushner is saying he was tasked with handling contacts by foreign governments. He's admitting it was his job to account for these things, but he's also suggesting there were too many of them for him to recall specific details.
“The first that I can recall was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. in April 2016. This was when then candidate Trump was delivering a major foreign policy speech. Doing the event and speech had been my idea, and I oversaw its execution. I arrived at the hotel early to make sure all logistics were in order. After that, I stopped into the reception to thank the host of the event, Dimitri Simes, the publisher of the bi-monthly foreign policy magazine, The National Interest, who had done a great job putting everything together. Mr. Simes and his group had created the guest list and extended the invitations for the event. He introduced me to several guests, among them four ambassadors, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 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. 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.”
The most noteworthy piece here is that he's saying his first known interaction with Kislyak “lasted less than a minute.” He will repeatedly downplay any ongoing relationship with Kislyak.
“Reuters news service has reported that I had two calls with Ambassador Kislyak at some time between April and November of 2016. While I participated in thousands of calls during this period, I do not recall any such calls with the Russian Ambassador. 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. A comprehensive review of my land line and cell phone records from the time does not reveal those calls. I had no ongoing relationship with the Ambassador before the election, and had limited knowledge about him then.”
Kushner is disputing a May Reuters's report that his contacts with Kislyak included two phone calls. Here's what Reuters said:
Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. Two people familiar with those 18 contacts said Flynn and Kushner were among the Trump associates who spoke to the ambassador by telephone. Reuters previously reported only Flynn’s involvement in those discussions.
Six of the sources said there were multiple contacts between Kushner and Kislyak but declined to give details beyond the two phone calls between April and November and the post-election conversation about setting up a back channel. It is also not clear whether Kushner engaged with Kislyak on his own or with other Trump aides.
Whether these phone calls actually happened is sure to be a topic of discussion this week. Kushner seems pretty certain they never happened, because otherwise he would likely just say that he didn't recall them — as he does at multiple other points in his statement. There is definitely some intrigue here.
“In fact, on November 9, the day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian Ambassador. When the campaign received an email purporting to be an official note of congratulations from President Putin, I was asked how we could verify it was real. To do so I thought the best way would be to ask the only contact I recalled meeting from the Russian government, which was the Ambassador I had met months earlier, so I sent an email asking Mr. Simes, 'What is the name of the Russian ambassador?'”
If this email exists and can be turned over, it would sure seem to help Kushner's case in regards to the above.
“The only other Russian contact during the campaign is one I did not recall at all until I was reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information. 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.'
“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.”
Kushner said he did not recall this meeting until he reviewed documents. In fact, it first came to light earlier this month when the New York Times reported on it.
Kushner seems to be saying he had no idea about the reason for the meeting, which according to emails released by Trump Jr. was that he was seeking opposition research on Democrats from a representative of the Russian government. Kushner was forwarded that chain of emails, but he says he didn't even read it.
Kushner also suggests he missed the part of the meeting in which the opposition research was discussed. While a Russian American in the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, told AP that the Russian lawyer shared a plastic folder containing printed-out documents with Trump Jr., Kushner says he didn't witness that discussion or the exchange.
"[In the post-election, December meeting with Kislyak,] the Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his 'generals.' He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they 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. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a 'secret back channel.' 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. We did not discuss sanctions.”
Here, Kushner is addressing news The Post broke in late May: That he tried to set up a secret back channel between the Trump transition and the Russian government, and that he floated the idea of using Russian diplomatic facilities for the transmissions. Kushner seems to be confirming the substance of the report, but he insists it was far less nefarious than it might sound at first blush.
“My assistant reported that the Ambassador had requested that I meet with a person named Sergey Gorkov who he said was a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together. I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the President, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days. I made room on my schedule for the meeting that occurred the next day, on December 13. …
“At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind. At the end of the short meeting, we thanked each other and I went on to other meetings. I did not know or have any contact with Mr. Gorkov before that meeting, and I have had no reason to connect with him since.”
This is about the December meeting with the head of the Russian state-owned bank — No. 4 of four meetings — and Kushner again suggests it's much ado about nothing. Some have seized upon this meeting as potentially being tied to the federal investigation into Kushner's finances. Complicating things for Kushner are the conflicting signals from the White House and Russia: The White House said it was about diplomacy, while Russia has said it was about Kushner's family's real estate business.
“In the week before the Inauguration, amid the scramble of finalizing the unwinding of my involvement from my company, moving my family to Washington, completing the paper work to divest assets and resign from my outside positions and complete my security and financial disclosure forms, people at my New York office were helping me find the information, organize it, review it and put it into the electronic form. They sent an email to my assistant in Washington, communicating that the changes to one particular section were complete; my assistant interpreted that message as meaning that the entire form was completed. At that point, the form was a rough draft and still had many omissions including not listing any foreign government contacts and even omitted the address of my father-in-law (which was obviously well known). Because of this miscommunication, my assistant submitted the draft on January 18, 2017.”
Here, Kushner details his failure to disclose foreign-government contacts on his SF-86 security clearance form. He seems to suggest it was merely a bookkeeping error. But he's had to update it multiple times. As Matt Zapotosky reported last week:
Kushner, one of President Trump’s closest advisers, has filed three updates to his national security questionnaire since submitting it in mid-January, according to people familiar with the matter. That is significant because the document — known as an SF-86 — warns that those who submit false information could be charged with a federal crime and face up to five years in prison.
Prosecutions for filing erroneous SF-86 forms are rare — though the Justice Department has brought cases against those with intentional omissions, and people have been denied security clearance for incorrect forms, legal analysts said.
How a form of such significance could be mishandled so badly is sure to be a focus this week. Some Democrats have called for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked.