NEW YORK CITY — US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has released details of his interactions with Russians over the past two years, confirming four contacts with Russians during Trump’s presidential campaign or after the election.
Kushner released the 11-page statement ahead of his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, which will take place behind closed doors and will not be under oath.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner said in his statement. “I had no improper contacts.”
As the Wall Street Journal notes, one of the newly detailed meetings was previously undisclosed. In Kushner’s statement, he reveals that he met Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak at an event in April 2016, but claims it was in a group rather than a private setting.
Kushner later met with Kislyak and former national security adviser Michael Flynn at Trump Tower in December 2016, after Trump won the presidential election.
Kislyak, Gorkov, and a ‘secret back channel’
The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner suggested setting up a secret backchannel with Moscow during that meeting, but Kushner denied that he proposed “an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office.”
He acknowledged, however, that he asked if the Trump transition team could use the Russian embassy to speak with Russian officials privately about Syria.
Kislyak “said he especially wanted to address US policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his ‘generals,'” Kushner wrote. “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 … 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.”
Kushner insisted that “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.”
Almost two weeks later, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kushner notes in his statement that he arranged the meeting at Kislyak’s request.
The FBI is reportedly examining whether Gorkov suggested to Kushner that Russian banks could finance Trump associates’ business ventures if US sanctions were lifted or relaxed, according to Reuters, citing a current US law enforcement official.
But Kushner denied that in his statement, insisting that “there were no specific policies discussed” in his meeting with Gorkov, which he said lasted 20-25 minutes.
“We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration,” Kushner wrote. “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 Trump Tower meeting
Kushner said that he “did not remember” until recently the meeting he attended on June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower with his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., his father’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Russians interested in discussing “adoption” policy. Kushner said he arrived at the meeting late and did not know who would be there when he agreed to it because he did not read the entire email chain beforehand.
“I arrived at the meeting a little late,” Kushner wrote. “When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on US 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.”
Kushner added that “reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time” and that he emailed his assistant from the meeting after “10 or so minutes” asking: “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”
Kushner said he disclosed the June 9 meeting on his security clearance form “prior to it being reported in the press…even if that was not required as meeting the definitions of the form.”
Kushner also addressed questions about his security clearance (SF-86) form, which he has had to update at least twice since January to disclose as many as 100 previously unreported meetings or conversations he had with foreign nationals.
“As my attorneys and I have previously explained, my SF-86 application was prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication and initially did not list any contacts (not just with Russians) with foreign government officials,” Kushner wrote.
“It has been reported that my submission omitted only contacts with Russians,” he continued. “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 said that he has “made every effort to provide the FBI with whatever information is needed to investigate my background” and that “my attorneys have explained that the security clearance process is one in which supplements are expected and invited.”
National security experts, however, have said that ommitting foreign contacts on an SF-86 form is a very serious violation that, for anyone else, would result in security clearance being revoked and possibly being fired. Experts have also questioned Kushner’s claim that his form was submitted prematurely, noting that the SF86 instructs the applicant to review all answers for completeness and accuracy before signing.
According to instructions listed on the National Background Investigations Bureau’s website, the form requires applicants to disclose whether they have had “close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with who you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation.”
The form, which can be filed electronically, includes checkboxes for “Yes” or “No,” and has a “Save” button below the question to preserve the answer. The form must also undergo a certification process, meaning verifying “that all your answers are true and complete to the best of your knowledge,” giving the applicant one more opportunity to make corrections or additions to the form.
The form can then be electronically signed and filed.