Jeff Mason, Andy Sullivan
Washington: Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, told Senate investigators on Monday, US time, he had met with Russian officials four times last year but said he did not collude with Moscow to influence the 2016 US election.
Mr Kushner portrayed himself as a businessman like Trump, new to politics when he became a top adviser to Trump’s campaign. Frantic fielding of phone calls and emails made his recollections of some meetings somewhat hazy, he said.
Mr Kushner, who met behind closed doors with Senate Intelligence Committee staff, made the remarks in a written statement that he issued before the meeting and that gave the fullest account to date of his contacts with Russian officials.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” he said. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional panels investigating the Russia matter, along with a federal criminal probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, met committee staff for about two hours on Capitol Hill and then returned to the White House where he made a statement to reporters outside but did not take questions.
“The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign,” Mr Kushner said.
He said all of his actions were proper and occurred within a “very unique campaign”.
Two sources with knowledge of what Mr Kushner told the Senate staff said the session was pleasant and conversational and that there may be another interview.
Mr Kushner said Mr Trump prevailed over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in November 2016 because he ran a “smarter campaign” and that to suggest otherwise “ridicules those who voted for him”.
The Republican President, who has called the Russia probes politically motivated, lashed out at the investigations in Twitter messages on Monday. Mr Trump has been dogged by allegations that his campaign aides worked with Russia, which US intelligence agencies have accused of interfering in the election. Moscow has denied any meddling, and Mr Trump says his campaign did not collude with Moscow.
Mr Kushner arrived with prominent white-collar defense lawyer Abbe Lowell for the meeting with Senate staffers, which lasted about two and a half hours.
In his written statement, Mr Kushner said he first met Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in Washington in April 2016 and shook hands. He said he did not recall phone calls with Mr Kislyak between April and November 2016, as reported by Reuters in May, had found no evidence of the calls in phone records and was skeptical they took place.
Exchange of gifts
Mr Kushner said he met after the election, on December 13, with Sergei Gorkov, the head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, because of Mr Kislyak’s insistence and because the Russian had a “direct relationship” with President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Kushner said that “no specific policy issues” were discussed.
Sanctions imposed by Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration were not discussed nor were Mr Kushner’s business activities, Mr Kushner said. Vneshekonombank is under US sanctions.
“He introduced himself and gave me two gifts – one was a piece of art from Nvgorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus, and the other was a bag of dirt from that same village,” Mr Kushner said.
He said he did not have any contact with Mr Gorkov before the meeting nor had he been in contact with him since.
‘Need excuse’ to leave meeting
Members of the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees have said they want to hear about a June 2016 meeting involving Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Mr Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
The younger Trump has released emails that showed he welcomed the prospect of receiving damaging information from the Russian government about Mrs Clinton.
Mr Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were also at the meeting but Mr Kushner described it as a waste of time.
“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.'”
He said no part of the meeting he attended “included anything about the campaign” and he had no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted. He said an email from Mr Trump Jr. before the meeting was “on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time.”
Mr Kushner was expected to face questions about reports he tried to set up a secret back channel to Moscow, as well as other contacts with top Russian officials and business leaders.
He said that in a December 1 meeting with Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador asked if there was a secure line in Mr Trump’s transition office to facilitate a discussion with Russian generals about Syria, and Mr Kushner replied there was not.
Mr Kushner said he asked if the Russians had an existing communications channel at the Russian Embassy that could be used to transmit information to the transition team, but Mr Kislyak indicated that was not possible and they agreed to follow up after the inauguration.
“Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel.’ I did not suggest an ongoing secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office,” Mr Kushner said.
Mr Kushner did not initially disclose any meetings with Russians on forms he filed to get a government security clearance. He has since revised those forms several times.
He said the forms were initially submitted prematurely in error and omitted all foreign contacts he had had, not just those with Russian officials.
President slams investigation
In a pair of tweets early on Monday morning, the President lashed out at the ongoing investigation, the media and Washington at large. Without giving proof, he said no evidence had been found regarding Russia and said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had cast blame on Democrats, not Russia, for the election loss.
After 1 year of investigation with Zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that “Democrats should blame ourselves,not Russia.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
“Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer – it’s actually much worse than anyone ever thought, and it begins with the Fake News!” Mr Trump wrote, adding: “After 1 year of investigation with Zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that “Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia.”
In an interview with the Washington Post over the weekend, Mr Schumer said Democrats failed to deliver a strong message during the campaign.