Tillerson told lawmakers Kushner didn’t alert him to Saudi meeting

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday released the transcript of a closed-door May interview with President Trump’s former secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson told the panel that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner did not alert him to conversations with foreign leaders, including meetings with officials from Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the transcript.

“As time went by, one of the challenges I think that everyone had — has had to learn to deal with was the role, the unique situation with the president’s son-in-law and daughter being part the White House advisory team,” Tillerson said, according to the transcript. “That’s, you know, it’s unusual. I don’t recall it ever being the case before, not that there’s anything wrong with it.” {mosads}

The transcript, which stretches 145 pages, is redacted to conceal sensitive information. The interview took place on May 21.

Democratic counsel, who led the questioning, asked several times about Kushner’s role in the administration.

Tillerson told the committee that “no one really described” Kushner’s role to him and that he “just knew what his title was.”

In one exchange, Tillerson was asked if he was aware of a May 20, 2017, dinner between Kushner, former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in which those countries laid out a plan for a blockade against Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been leading a blockade against Qatar since June 2017.

Tillerson told the committee he was neither aware of the dinner nor that Saudi Arabia and the UAE described their blockade plans.

“It makes me angry,” Tillerson said when asked for his reaction. “Because I didn’t have a say. The State Department’s views were never expressed.”

In another example, Tillerson said he was unaware one time when Mexico’s foreign secretary came to Washington to meet with Kushner. Tillerson found out because the owner of the restaurant where he was having dinner told him the foreign secretary was there as well.

Tillerson walked back to say hello and saw Kushner dining with the secretary.

“I could see the color go out of the face of the foreign secretary of Mexico as I very — I smiled big, and I said: Welcome to Washington,” Tillerson said. “And I said: I don’t want to interrupt what y’all are doing. I said: Give me a call next time you’re coming to town.”

“As it turned out later, the foreign secretary was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it,” he added. “And he was rather shocked to find out that when he started telling me all these things that were news to me, I told him this is the first time I’m hearing of it.”

Tillerson also told the committee he doesn’t “have a particularly unique understanding” of Kushner’s relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, other than that “the two met often.”

Kushner, he said, also “kind of was in charge of his own agenda” when traveling abroad and did not coordinate with the U.S. embassies where he was traveling.

Tillerson said Kushner promised to “do better” on coordination, but that “not much changed.”

Trump tapped Tillerson as his first secretary of State, but the two clashed over major foreign policy issues such as Iran and the Paris climate accord. Eventually, Trump ousted Tillerson in March 2018, replacing him with Mike Pompeo, who at the time was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Tillerson’s tenure was controversial, punctuated by rumors of weakened morale in the State Department and discord between the top diplomat and the White House. 

Tillerson was questioned by House Foreign Affairs staff more than a year after his departure from the Trump administration. He answered questions on a range of subjects, including his reorganization plans at the State Department during his tenure, the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts, his interactions with other administration officials about foreign policy deliberations, and his meetings and conversations with foreign officials. 

Tillerson was quite responsive to many of the questions but at times declined to discuss specifics of episodes or conversations with Trump as a result of executive privilege concerns. 

A large portion of the interview centered on U.S.-Russia relations and meetings between Tillerson, Trump and Kremlin officials. 

Tillerson was questioned about a meeting between Trump and Putin on the sidelines of the July 2017 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, after which Trump is reported to have taken possession of an interpreter’s notes. 

Tillerson told committee staff that he did not see Trump take the interpreter’s notes and that he “never” saw Trump take notes from someone who created them after a meeting. 

Tillerson also indicated that Putin seemed more prepared than Trump at the meeting in Hamburg. U.S. officials expected the meeting to be a brief 30 minutes, Tillerson told the committee, but it ended up going much longer. Tillerson said their lack of preparation for the length and depth of the meeting was not necessarily a bad thing. 

“You said that President Putin struck you as being quite prepared. Did you similarly feel President Trump was prepared as well for that meeting?” a Democratic counsel asked. 

“Well, we didn’t undertake that kind of preparation for the president because we didn’t expect that that’s the way it was going to go now. As it played out, the president engaged with his views. He asked me on several occasions, you know, what did I think about what was being discussed,” Tillerson said. 

“And I offered that view, because we’d done a lot of thinking about it, obviously. So it was just a good kind of free form discussion around the issue. It was all, I think, helpful in going forward,” he said.

Tillerson said he wasn’t aware of Trump discussing or referring to his businesses or his family’s businesses during meetings with Putin or other foreign leaders.

“Never with me around, never when I was there,” he said.

Significant swaths of the transcript are redacted to conceal Tillerson’s answers to questions about Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office in May 10, 2017. Trump is reported to have shared highly classified information with the Kremlin officials during that meeting. 

Tillerson said he stood by a December quote in which he described Trump as “a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read things, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of lots of things.”

“I don’t think I was stating anything that most people that spent time observing the president and the way he, you know, the way he handles his own affairs would find any of that surprising,” Tillerson told the committee. “And it was not stated in any sort of a critical or pejorative way. It was just a description of this is how he operates.”

When Democratic counsel broached the topic of reports that Tillerson once called Trump a “moron,” Tillerson’s personal lawyer repeatedly asked to move on.

Asked about a quote from the December interview in which he said he had to explain to Trump when something violated the law, Tillerson told the committee, “the president never asked me to violate the law.”

But, Tillerson continued, for immigration issues early in Trump’s presidency, Trump did not understand the law or Congress’s role in how the government operates.

“I would say in the context of that, the president was on a steep learning curve,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson said the issue also arose with treaties, but the example he gave was redacted.

Updated at 2:44 p.m.


Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jared Kushner Jared Kushner Mike Pompeo Rex Tillerson Rex Tillerson Steve Bannon Vladimir Putin

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