‘I Did Not Collude,’ Kushner Says in Prepared Remarks to Senators – New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said on Monday that he had been unaware that a June 2016 meeting he attended at Trump Tower was set up in the hope that a Russian lawyer would provide the Trump campaign with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
In prepared remarks to congressional investigators released by Mr. Kushner’s representatives, Mr. Kushner said he arrived at the meeting late and had been so uninterested in the discussion that he emailed his assistant to ask for her help escaping.
Mr. Kushner, who is to give his statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, said he went to the meeting at the request of the president’s eldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr. Mr. Kushner said he did not read an email forwarded by the younger Mr. Trump saying that the Russian government was providing dirt about Mrs. Clinton as part of its effort to help the Trump campaign.
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In his prepared remarks, Mr. Kushner gave his first public explanation of his contacts with Russian government officials and other Kremlin-connected people over the past year. He acknowledged that after the November election, he sought a direct line of communication to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. He characterized that action as a routine part of his job in establishing foreign contacts for Mr. Trump’s transition team.
In the remarks, Mr. Kushner flatly denied any collusion: “I had no improper contacts. I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”
The contacts with Russians by Mr. Kushner and by other senior members of the Trump campaign have taken on special significance. American intelligence agencies have concluded that Mr. Putin authorized a campaign of hacking and propaganda to try to tip the 2016 presidential election in Mr. Trump’s favor. The Justice Department and Congress are investigating whether anyone around Mr. Trump helped that effort, and whether the president has tried to impede the investigation.
Mr. Kushner’s closed-door appearance before Senate Intelligence Committee investigators on Monday is the start of an important period in the inquiry, one that will keep the focus on Russia despite Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to move past the controversy. Mr. Kushner is also scheduled to speak to the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
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In his prepared remarks, Mr. Kushner said that his efforts during the transition to establish communications with Mr. Putin were proof that there were no communications with senior Kremlin officials during the campaign.
“The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day,” Mr. Kushner said.
Mr. Kushner’s meetings during the transition with Russia’s ambassador to the United States and with a Russian banker have put him at the center of the controversy.
Mr. Kushner said he met the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, in November, along with Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Kushner said that he expressed hope during the meeting that the new administration would have an improved relationship with Moscow, and that he had asked Mr. Kislyak whom he should talk to who was in direct contact with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Kislyak said “generals” in Russia had important information to share about Syria, Mr. Kushner recalled. The United States and Russia are the dominant proxy powers in Syria’s civil war.
“He asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation,” Mr. Kushner said. “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.”
That request, first reported by The Washington Post and since confirmed by former senior American officials, generated suspicion that Mr. Kushner was trying to avoid American surveillance. Mr. Kushner denied that. “I did not suggest a secret back channel,” he said. When Mr. Kislyak rejected the idea of using the Russian Embassy, Mr. Kushner said, they dropped the discussion.
Days later, Mr. Kushner met Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a lender that is under American sanctions. Mr. Kushner said that Mr. Kislyak had described Mr. Gorkov as 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.”
Mr. Gorkov gave Mr. Kushner a piece of art and a bag of dirt from Novgorod, his family’s ancestral village in Belarus. “He said that he was friendly with President Putin, expressed disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations under President Obama and hopes for a better relationship in the future,” Mr. Kushner said. He said that he had regarded it as a campaign meeting and that business deals were not discussed. And Mr. Kushner said he had disclosed the gifts to the transition office — a sign, he said, that the meeting was no secret.
Mr. Kushner said he did not discuss specific policies, including American sanctions against Russia, with either Mr. Kislyak or with Mr. Gorkov.
Conversations with foreign officials and business leaders are common during a presidential transition. But Mr. Kushner’s meetings attracted special attention because he did not immediately disclose them on federal forms required for his security clearance. Mr. Kushner said that his staff members had inadvertently filed an incomplete form, leaving off all foreign contacts — not just Russian ones — as well as other information.
Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Senate investigators will not be under oath, so it is not technically testimony. But Mr. Kushner is still required to answer truthfully; lying to Congress is a crime, as one Republican senator pointed out over the weekend.
Several White House aides have privately expressed concern about selective leaks of information after Mr. Kushner’s appearance in closed-door session before the Senate Intelligence Committee. By making his prepared remarks public, Mr. Kushner is ensuring that his version of the events of the past year is seen in full.
In recent days, two of Mr. Trump’s aides who have been the focus of congressional investigators have voiced concerns about what Mr. Kushner may encounter on Monday.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide who spoke to the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session on July 14, has urged officials to release a transcript of his appearance after a Democratic congresswoman who did not attend the hearing told CNN that Mr. Caputo may have “lied” to the committee.
“I’m warning anybody who would listen against doing a closed hearing in the future,” Mr. Caputo said in an interview.
Roger Stone, one of Mr. Trump’s longest-serving advisers, was scheduled to appear at a closed session this week, but it was postponed.
Mr. Stone said he wanted to make an immediate release of the transcript of the session a condition of his appearance.
“It’s not an unreasonable request,” Mr. Stone said. “Everybody in this lineup should be concerned.”
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