Pressure on Trump grows as Kushner is questioned

Pressure on Trump grows as Kushner is questioned
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said Monday he did not collude with Moscow in the 2016 presidential campaign, delivering a pair of statements that underlined the mounting pressure on the White House over Russia.

Kushner insisted that all of his actions during the campaign and the transition had been “proper,” first in a written statement and later at a lectern outside the West Wing.

“Let me very clear: I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner said, speaking slowly and deliberately from notes, and often quoting directly from his written statement.

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It amounted to a rare public performance by a White House star who seldom speaks publicly. A senior adviser responsible for a broad international portfolio, the former real estate developer has been a flashpoint in the political imbroglio surrounding Trump and Russia.

For the first time, Kushner gave his own account of the June 2016 meeting between the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a woman described as a Russian government lawyer who was offering damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms Special counsel issues rare statement disputing explosive Cohen report MORE.

In his 11-page description of his contacts with Russian officials — a narrative in which he often characterized himself as hard-working but politically inexperienced — Kushner said he did not even recall attending the meeting until he came across documents and emails at the request of congressional investigators.

Kushner’s statement was made to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, who interviewed him behind closed doors on Monday. He will speak to House Intelligence Committee members on Tuesday.

By the time Kushner arrived on Capitol Hill on Monday morning, photographers were set up on at least three different levels of the Hart Senate Office Building, where he met with investigators for an hour and a half.

He said little to jockeying reporters on site, a smile planted on his face while entering and exiting the meeting. One protester, claiming to be from the group Americans Take Action, leapt out of a crowd of journalists to brandish a Russian flag in Kushner’s face and demanded his signature.

Scores of media members later waited outside the White House, sweating in the 90-degree heat. He spoke at the lectern emblazoned with a White House logo for just more than two minutes and ignored the hail of questions shouted at him as he walked away.

Even as Kushner prepared for his interlocution, Trump vented his frustration on Twitter with the media, Democrats and the Russia investigation.

“Sleazy Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Giuliani calls latest Cohen allegations 'categorically false' Sen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students MORE [Calif.], the totally biased Congressman looking into ‘Russia,’ spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!” he wrote, referring to the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee.

“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” he tweeted shortly afterward, referring to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' Acting AG Whitaker's wife defends him in lengthy email to journalist Watchdog: Thousands more migrant children separated from parents than previously known MORE, whom he recently publicly bashed for recusing himself from the federal probe into Russian election interference and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

Trump’s complaints about Sessions, an early campaign supporter, have raised suspicions that the president wants a new attorney general who would be empowered to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia. The investigation was launched after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.

On Monday, Trump tweeted about his attorney general being “beleaguered.”

Some committee Democrats signaled that the scrutiny of Kushner is far from over despite his insistence that he has been completely transparent with investigators.

A genial Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.) told reporters that staffers were conducting a “preliminary type of thing” on Monday morning and that they would help determine the parameters of the investigation.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law MORE, a firebrand Democrat from Oregon, issued a blistering statement that demanded Kushner testify under oath in public.

“Kushner’s statement raises far more questions than it answers,” Wyden said, calling the document “clever lawyering.”

“His description of his financial relationships with individuals and businesses tied to Russia appears incomplete, at best,” Wyden added.

Democrats from the various panels investigating Russian election meddling have long sought to bring Kushner before their respective committees — but it wasn’t until news of the Trump Tower meeting broke that lawmakers got their way.

According to Kushner, he arrived late to the meeting and found the discussion to be about the ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children, put in place by Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to 2012 sanctions over human rights violations.

Determining that the meeting was a waste of his time, Kushner left the meeting shortly after arriving — leaving Trump Jr., top campaign aide Paul Manafort and several other attendees behind.

“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,’ ” he wrote.

He also pushed back on press reports that he tried to set up a backchannel line of communications with Moscow.

According to Kushner, he suggested using the Russian Embassy’s secure line for a phone call between Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russian generals to discuss U.S. policy in Syria — because Trump Tower did not have that capability.

The Russian ambassador said no, according to the written statement, and the matter was postponed until after the inauguration.

In another encounter, Kushner said he met with a prominent Russian banker tied to the Kremlin at the request of the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak said that the banker, Sergey Gorkov, could act as a direct line to Putin, Kushner said.

But the meeting was brief and only addressed issues in broad strokes, according to Kushner. Gorkov presented him with two gifts — a piece of art from the village where Kushner’s grandparents had come from and a bag of dirt from that village — and there was no discussion of sanctions.

Throughout the 11-page document, Kushner downplays his interactions with Russian officials, including his relationship to Kislyak.

“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,” he said.

“Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.”


Jonathan Easley contributed.