Kushner defends himself ahead of Senate intel meeting: ‘I did not collude’

In pre-written testimony Jared Kushner plans to submit before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday — a high-stakes, closed-door grilling session that is part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign — the powerful son-in-law will try to explain away his four contacts with Russian officials during the general election and the transition as innocent interactions.

In an 11-page opening statement provided to reporters early Monday morning ahead of his 10 a.m. appointment with the Senate, Kushner attempts to exonerate himself, writing: “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”

Instead, Kushner paints a picture of himself as a loyal, overworked, under-experienced senior adviser to his father-in-law during a novice campaign that was never staffed up to win.

The former real estate developer also blames the glaring omissions on his security clearance forms — which did not originally include several meetings with Russian officials that have since come to light — on an honest mistake made by his assistant at the time. And like others in the Trump orbit who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Inauguration Day, Kushner also said he had trouble remembering the official after their first brief, previously unreported encounter at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. — the same event where Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with, but didn’t remember, the Russian ambassador.

“I am not a person who has sought the spotlight,” Kushner says in his opening statement, according to a copy provided to POLITICO. But he explains that after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, his father-in-law asked Kushner to be the point of contact for foreign governments, and he was in touch with emissaries from 15 different countries, including Russia. To put his hectic life and schedule into context — and explain away his presence at a meeting where a Russian lawyer was hawking opposition research about Hillary Clinton — he also writes that he typically received about 200 emails a day during the campaign, and often didn’t read through every exchange.

In his opening testimony, he walks through each of his four meetings with the Russians, downplaying all of them to brief, pro forma interactions that lead to no follow-ups.

“I had no ongoing relationship with the Ambassador before the election, and had limited knowledge about him then,” he writes of Kislyak, with whom he reportedly tried to set up a communications backchannel during the transition. “In fact, on November 9, the day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian Ambassador.”

Trying to prove his point, he adds: “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. [Demetri] Simes, ‘What is the name of the Russian ambassador?’"

Kushner also responds to a Reuters report that he had two follow-up calls with Kislyak. “A comprehensive review of my landline and cell phone records from the time does not reveal those calls,” he says of the reported calls in April and August of 2016.

His second interaction with a Russian official was the now infamous Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, that June.

Kushner claims he had no idea what he was walking into. An email from his brother-in-law reminds him of the time change to 4 p.m. for the Trump Tower meeting, and Kushner writes that it was not abnormal to pop into each other’s offices for meetings. “That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time,” he writes. “Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as "Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner. No one else was mentioned.”

The meeting, where Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Trump, Jr., and campaign operative Paul Manafort and four other people were discussing Russian adoptions and were gathered to exchange information about Hillary Clinton, was outside of his purview, he writes.

“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 writes. “No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.”

His third and final contact with a potential Russian agent, he claims, was a hoax email he received from a hacker trying to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

During the transition, he said, his only meeting with Kislyak lasted 23 minutes.
“I stated our desire for a fresh start in relation,” he says of the meeting where Kushner reportedly tried to set up a backchannel of communication. It was Kislyak, Kushner writes, that brought up U.S. policy in Syria, and said “he wanted to convey information from what he called ‘his generals,’” Kushner writes. “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.”

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Kushner explained to him that there was not. “I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” he explains. “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.”

Kushner said he declined two attempts by Kislyak in December for a follow-up, eventually sending his assistant instead. It was there that Kislyak recommended that Kushner sit down with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Kremlin-linked Russian bank. All that was exchanged, he said, was a humble piece of art and a bag of dirt from the Belarus village where his grandparents were born.

“There were no specific policies discussed,” he said. “We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.”

The Putin-linked bank, however, has provided a different explanation. The Washington Post reported that the bank claimed the meeting was part of a new business strategy and that it was held with Kushner in his role as the head of his family’s real estate business, Kushner Companies.

As for the confusion about his security clearance forms, he blames the glaring omissions on an assistant.

“[People at my New York office] 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,” he writes. “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.”

Kushner, who will face a second grilling by the House on Tuesday, has been preparing for the session with his lawyers. He claims, at the end of his lengthy statement: “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required.”

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