Kushner Testimony: Collusion Narrative Takes Another Hit

Kushner Testimony: Collusion Narrative Takes Another Hit

A statement released Monday by associates of Jared Kushner prior to his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee is, by far, the deepest the American public has ventured into the mind of Jared Kushner. The man who has been portrayed as a secretive, somewhat enigmatic figure in his role as Senior Advisor to President Trump spoke to the committee on a voluntary basis, but the actual testimony occurred behind closed doors without media present.

The release of the 11-page statement gives the public a window into the substance of Kushner’s testimony, which was not given under oath. The release of the statement serves to avoid ambiguity and the potential misquoting of anonymous sources. It is a wise move by the Kushner camp, who have clearly learned from the mistakes made by Jeff Sessions and other Trump representatives. When it comes to the Russia narrative, the opportunity for words to be twisted and ambiguous answers parsed for inconsistencies is to be expected, and Kushner’s statement provides a public record, in Kushner’s own words, of what was essentially said during his testimony.

There are many revelations contained within the Kushner statement, and the level of detail which is provided in each accounting of meetings with Russian officials is impressive and intentional. The entire statement can be accessed here. However, there are some passages and statements made within the 11-page pre-testimony statement that deserve special attention.

The Extent of Kushner’s Contacts with Russians

Kushner chronicles in his statement four occasions on which he had contact with Russian officials during the campaign and transition periods of the Trump presidency. None of those contacts, Kushner said, were memorable or of any consequence to the narrative about Russian collusion:

"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government," Kushner said. "I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector."

The meetings with Russians range from April 2016 to December 2016, and includes two meetings with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, one with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, and the infamous June meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer.

Kushner details these encounters individually, all of which he qualifies as innocent and part of the normal course of action for a senior political advisor. The April 2016 interaction with then-ambassador Kislyak came to be because of Kushner’s role in coordinating a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Doing the event and speech had been my idea, and I oversaw its execution. I arrived at the hotel early to make sure all logistics were in order,” Kushner explained, adding that the host of the event, Dmitri Simes, introduced him to a number of guests, including Ambassador Kislyak:

He introduced me to several guests, among them four ambassadors, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event…”

Kushner adds that each ambassador expressed interest in fostering positive relations should Trump win the election, but that Kushner had not taken up any of them on invitations to have lunch and further discussions.

The December meetings with Russian officials were also characterized as routine and not memorable, aside from their relevance to the ongoing narrative of collusion. The impetus for a December 1st meeting with Ambassador Kislyak was a request from Kislyak’s office:

“On November 16, 2016, my assistant received a request for a meeting from the Russian Ambassador. As I mentioned before, previous to receiving this request, I could not even recall the Russian Ambassador's name, and had to ask for the name of the individual I had seen at the Mayflower Hotel almost seven months earlier.”

Kushner adds that during the specified period he had “fifty contacts with people from over 15 countries,” and that only two of those fifty contacts were with Russians. The implication of this statement seems to be that the narrative of Russian favoritism by the Trump campaign is ludicrous.

Kushner categorizes the meeting with Kislyak as “far from urgent,” evidenced by the fact that it took two weeks for it to be scheduled. However, the details of this meeting are of heightened importance because of much-maligned former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s participation. It is also clear that this meeting, held at Trump Tower, was the basis for the narrative that the Trump administration desired to set up a direct line of communication with Russia, yet Kushner characterizes this request as routine:

“…as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President.

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.”

Kushner then details resumed contacts with the Russian ambassador’s office that resulted in the scheduling of a meeting between Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker who the ambassador’s office had tabbed as the point-man for further Trump-Russia correspondence.

On December 13th, the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov took place:

“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 Novgorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus, and the other was a bag of dirt from that same village.”

Keep in mind that this meeting with Gorkov is the interaction in which Kushner allegedly discussed his private-sector business dealings. He claims in his statement that this allegation is untrue. He details the scope of the meeting:

“After that, he told me a little about his bank and made some statements about the Russian economy. 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.”

Kushner denies discussions of specific policies or any promises made to Russian officials. It is Kushner’s characterization of the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire Kushner statement.

The Don Jr. Meeting

Kushner qualifies his participation in the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer offering damning evidence against Hillary Clinton as unintentional:

“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.”

Kushner states that, while he was technically copied on the email thread explaining the Clinton-related motive for the meeting, he did not take the time to examine such details, noting only that the meeting time had changed:

“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.”

If you believe Kushner’s account, his late arrival to the meeting meant that he was completely unaware, and thus blindsided, by the reality that the meeting had a scope that was not worthy of Kushner’s participation:

“I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting.”

He then documents his efforts to flee the meeting:

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."

Kushner says that he did not know of the Russian attorney before the meeting, and had no further interaction with her after. Though this accounting will likely be characterized by some as throwing Donald Trump, Jr. under the bus, it also passes as believable. Kushner is a divisive figure, but the schedule-consuming nature of his role as Senior Advisor has not been up for debate.

Ultimately, belief in Kushner’s accounts will depend upon one’s preconceived notions about the man, but this statement provides a detailed account that leaves little room for speculation or parsing.

The Statement’s Greater Implications

The detail provided in Jared Kushner’s statement should be of comfort to those who believe that interactions between Trump campaign team members and Russian officials have been overblown. Kushner provides characterizations of each meeting in detail that some may deem unnecessary. However, that seems to be Kushner’s aim: to provide so much detail that his words cannot be left open to speculation and manipulation.

This does not mean that this statement closes the case on Russia. Some will paint Kushner’s admissions that he did try to set up a direct line of communication as damning, not exonerating, in the case for collusion. Of course, there is nothing wrong with laying plans for efficient communication post-election. Still, these plans will be portrayed by many as dastardly.

What Kushner has done, primarily, is state his case in his own words for the public record. He has also set a precedent of how other Trump associates should transmit their accounts going forward: in writing.

Democrats and most media outlets are eager to cherry-pick statements and to word questions deceptively so that an admission of guilt can be produced from incomplete answers. By writing an overly-detailed, comprehensive statement, Kushner has eliminated the possibility of his words being distorted and used against him. Should they be, the statement is public record, and efforts to take his words out of context will be easily exposed.

Details pertaining to the Kushner/Ivanka ever-evolving SF-86 Security Clearance questionnaire, which has been amended 39 times since March, linger. Still, this statement does much to clear Kushner and other Trump associates from allegations that their pre-inauguration meetings with Russian officials qualified as collusion.