In his meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday, Jared Kushner has a lot of explaining to do. No one in the White House has been more compromised by “the Russia story.” The president’s son-in-law left 100 foreign contacts off the disclosure form he submitted to obtain a security clearance — an oversight that could constitute a federal crime. Among those undisclosed contacts were several meetings with Russian operatives before and after November’s election. At one of those, Kushner had reportedly sought to establish a direct line of communication with Moscow — one secure from the eavesdroppers in the American national security state. At another, he met with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, an encounter that he later described as diplomatic, but that the Russian banker insisted was strictly business.
Meanwhile, as authorities began searching for fire beneath all this smoke, the senior White House adviser (reportedly) pushed the president to take drastic measures to combat the probe — even encouraging his father-in-law to fire the FBI director who’d been leading it.
This was enough to put Kushner in the hot seat before the scandal’s biggest bombshell exploded two weeks ago: Donald Trump Jr.’s admission that during last year’s campaign he had accepted an offer to receive opposition research from individuals who were explicitly described to him as being “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. also revealed that he’d forwarded the email with that incendiary language to Kushner — and that Kushner had attended the subsequent meeting with the supposed Russian operatives.
This news led many liberals in the media and Congress to call for Kushner’s immediate firing. But the senior White house adviser stood his ground. And now, in 11 pages of written testimony to the Senate, he’s made the case that all this talk about Kushner and Russia is one big misunderstanding.
Here’s a rundown of Kushner’s excuses for his suspicious encounters and oversights:
I always intended to disclose all of my foreign contacts, but my assistant accidentally emailed it before I was finished.
Kushner submitted an inaccurate disclosure form when applying for his security clearance. That is, potentially, a prosecutable offense. Unlike so many other allegations kicked up by the Russia investigation, these facts are not in dispute. So it was imperative for Kushner (and his lawyers) to articulate an exonerating account of how this oversight took place. Here’s what they’ve got:
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.
… It has been reported that my submission omitted only contacts with Russians. That is not the case. In the accidental early submission of the form, all foreign contacts were omitted. The supplemental information later disclosed over one hundred contacts from more than twenty countries that might be responsive to the questions on the form.
Kushner says that he immediately notified the transition team that he would need to update the errantly submitted form, and submitted supplemental information the following day, before providing the actual, exhaustive list of contacts “before my background investigation interview and prior to any inquiries or media reports about my form.”
I don’t read all the way down email chains.
Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous email exchange with Rob Goldstone is the Russia scandal’s smoking gun (or, more precisely, the closest thing to one that’s been uncovered so far). And that gun seems to have Kushner’s fingerprints on it — the email pitching the meeting as a chance to receive direct aid from the Kremlin was forwarded to his in-box. But Kushner insists that he never read that email and knew virtually nothing about the meeting beyond the fact that Don Jr. had asked him to attend.
[I]t was typical for me to receive 200 or more emails a day during the campaign. I did not have the time to read every one, especially long emails from unknown senders or email chains to which I was added at some later point in the exchange.
… 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.
Kushner goes on to suggest that he can prove the meeting was a dud, as he emailed an assistant ten minutes into it, “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting?” The White House adviser neglects to note that the subject line on the email his brother-in-law sent him was “Re: Russia - Clinton - private and confidential.”
I only wanted to set up a secret line of communication with Moscow so that the president-elect could receive updates on the Syrian civil war directly from Russian generals.
In his testimony, Kushner confirms that he did ask the Russian ambassador if it would be possible for the Trump transition team to communicate with the Kremlin over a secure line inside a Russian embassy. But he maintains that he did so out of compassion for the Syrian people.
The Ambassador … 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 …We did not discuss sanctions.
Sergey Kislyak is really that forgettable — and I can prove it, because sometimes I forget that Google exists.
One of the running jokes of the Russia story line is that former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak must be the world’s most forgettable man — how else to explain why so many members of the Trump campaign failed to recall their interactions with him?
In his testimony, Kushner acknowledges that he met Kislyak very briefly at the Trump campaign’s major foreign-policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel. But he denies that the two men exchanged phone calls after this meeting, as Reuters had reported. As evidence that he had no ongoing relationship with Kislyak, Kushner writes the following:
I had no ongoing relationship with the Ambassador before the election, and had limited knowledge about him then. 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?”
I accepted dirt from the Russians — but not that kind of dirt.
Finally, Kushner insists that his meeting with the Russian banker Sergey Gorkov was about diplomacy, not business (despite Gorkov’s claims to the contrary). Still, he admits that he did receive dirt from the Putin confidante.
The meeting with Mr. Gorkov lasted twenty to twenty-five minutes. 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.
Kushner concludes his testimony by declaring, “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 … Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.”