Kushner Described as Forthcoming in Closed-Door House MeetingBy and
President’s son-in-law spent three hours with lawmakers
Kushner has emerged as central figure in Russia investigation
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was cooperative and forthcoming Tuesday during a closed-door interview with the House Intelligence Committee examining potential connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, lawmakers said.
Kushner entered the meeting with Democrats poised to level tough questions, including about his meeting with a Russian banker and his attempt to establish a back-channel with the Russian government.
The top Democrat on the panel, Adam Schiff of California, described the more than three-hour meeting as "a very productive session -- an opportunity to ask about a range of issues the committee was concerned about." Kushner was receptive to returning to the committee for more questioning, he said.
Mike Conaway of Texas, the Republican leading the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, said Kushner "wanted to answer every question we had.”
Kushner, 36, has emerged as a central figure in the Russia investigations, which seek to determine whether Trump or anyone in his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to tip the election his way. Now perhaps the president’s closest adviser, Kushner contended in verbal and written statements on Monday that he had just four contacts with Russian government officials during the 2016 campaign and transition, and described them all as unremarkable.
There were hints that Kushner’s second appearance in as many days before congressional committees investigating Russian meddling had the potential to be tense.
Elected members of the panel said they planned to ask questions themselves instead of leaving the interrogation to their staffs, as the Senate Intelligence Committee did on Monday. Members didn’t immediately comment about the specific answers they received in the closed session.
"He had his prepared statement but most of the questions he was just answering directly," Republican Tom Rooney of Florida, one of the main questioners, told reporters. "He wasn’t relying on, you know, his prepared statement that I could tell. I mean he was very forthright."
“Mr. Kushner was extremely forthright and believable to me," Rooney said.
Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley had said going into the session that he would press Kushner about his meeting during the presidential transition with the head of the Russian Vnesheconombank, Sergey Gorkov. The state-owned bank is under U.S. sanctions and is a focus of U.S. intelligence agencies’ scrutiny.
“Why would you meet with the head of the sanctioned Russian bank in the first place?” Quigley said on Monday. Kushner additionally has “a lot of explaining to do regarding his alleged conversation also with the Russian ambassador to develop a back-channel ability to communicate with the Kremlin.”
Trump on Tuesday praised Kushner’s performance before the Senate panel. “Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians,” Trump tweeted. “Witch Hunt,” he added, quipping, “Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!”
Kushner said in a written statement released by his representatives early Monday that he met with Gorkov, the Russian banker, at the request of the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. He said the banker gave him gifts -- a piece of art and a bag of dirt from Kushner’s grandparents’ home village in Belarus -- and discussed the bank and the Russian economy generally for about 20 to 25 minutes. The two didn’t discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia or Kushner’s businesses, he said.
“Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner told reporters at the White House on Monday, without taking questions. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses, and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.”
The latter sentence is also likely to garner scrutiny from Democrats. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he’s troubled by the phrase “relied on,” which he said suggests Kushner has accepted some investments from Russians.
“That definitely raised concerns with respect to whether that really is responsive to our questions,” Wyden said in a statement. He declined to elaborate in a brief interview because he said the matter involved classified information.
Kushner’s business dealings are already under scrutiny. Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to oversee the Justice Department probe into Russian interference in the campaign, is examining Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate holdings, according to a personal familiar with the matter.
Kushner was also sure to face questions Tuesday from House members about his participation in a June 2016 meeting his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., arranged with a person he believed to be a Russian government attorney delivering damaging information on Hillary Clinton, his father’s election opponent.
Kushner said in his statement to the Senate Intelligence committee that he didn’t read an email Trump Jr. sent to him describing that meeting before he joined it, and his calendar entry for the event read only: “‘Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner.” The email that Trump Jr. sent him read: “Russia - Clinton - private and confidential” in the subject line.
Kushner said he arrived to the meeting late, and when he realized the lawyer was talking about U.S. adoptions of Russian children, he tried to get out of the room by emailing an assistant: “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting."
The back-channel that Quigley had said he wanted to investigate arose at a meeting with Kislyak on Dec. 1, after the election, Kushner said in his statement. Kislyak told Kushner that he wished to share information about Syria from Russian “generals” and asked if the transition team had a secure communications line.
They didn’t, Kushner said in his statement, so he asked Kislyak if Trump’s top national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, could use one in the Russian embassy. Kislyak declined.
“I did not suggest a ‘secret back channel,’” Kushner said in his statement. “I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office.”
Democrats on Monday said that Kushner’s legal team had limited his appearance before the House committee to two hours -- but it went to three hours. Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro said he would pursue more details about the Trump campaign’s data operation: Who was in control of it, “and who all was coordinating with whom?”
Kushner, who is a White House senior adviser, prepared the 11-page statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee that covers his contacts with Russians during Trump’s campaign and transition and questions about the SF-86 disclosure form he submitted to obtain a security clearance.
The statement describes a fast-moving, and unconventional, campaign during which Kushner received hundreds of requests for meetings and at times couldn’t remember the names of key officials, like the Russian ambassador. His father-in-law appointed him the campaign’s liaison for foreign officials, he said, and before the election he had contacts with people from about 15 countries.
— With assistance by Bill Allison, Caleb Melby, Steven T. Dennis, Jennifer Epstein, and Terrence Dopp