There’s A Lot We Still Don’t Know About Kushner’s Russian Contacts

President Donald Trump's White House Senior Advisors Jared Kushner, left, and Steve Bannon, right, arrive at a White House senior staff swearing in ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017,... President Donald Trump's White House Senior Advisors Jared Kushner, left, and Steve Bannon, right, arrive at a White House senior staff swearing in ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) MORE LESS
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July 24, 2017 1:12 pm
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Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, on Monday detailed what he said were his only contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign in the hope of putting “these matters to rest.”

Kushner released an 11-page statement ahead of his interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee that raises questions about how forthcoming he was about those contacts, as well as why his descriptions of those contacts, in some cases, differ sharply from those of the Russian officials and businessmen with whom he met.

In the statement, Kushner painted himself as an overworked political novice who was prone to dispatching sensitive matters to his aides and seemingly unaware of the questions being raised about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship with Russia.

He faces questions from both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees this week in private session. Though he will reportedly not be giving those interviews under oath, it is a crime to knowingly lie to Congress.

Here’s a close look at the four Russian contacts that Kushner acknowledges he had, and what we still don’t know about those meetings.

Meeting Russia’s ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel

Who, what, where, when: Trump delivered a campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a Republican senator from Alabama, and Kushner were in attendance. All three met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S.

What’s been reported about it: Trump “warmly greeted” Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors at a V.I.P. reception held shortly before his first big foreign policy speech, in which he promised a push for “improved relations with Russia,” the Wall Street Journal reported last year. Kushner had organized the speech with the Center for the National Interest, a think tank, and both he and Sessions also chatted with Kislyak on the sidelines. Spokespeople for Kushner and Sessions denied that the two officials spoke to Kislyak one-on-one.

What Kushner says happened: Acknowledging the event was his “idea,” Kushner confirmed for the first time that he spoke with Kislyak at the event. He says he and the four ambassadors present merely “exchanged brief pleasantries” and he told them he “hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” according to his statement. According to Kushner, “each exchange lasted less than a minute.”

A separate spokesperson for Kushner told the Journal that the new statement doesn’t contradict previous denials because the exchange of pleasantries happened at a public reception instead of a private meeting.

What we still don’t know: Kislyak’s disclosure of the contact with Trump campaign officials to Moscow piqued the attention of U.S. officials who intercepted those conversations, CNN reported. We don’t know how Kislyak described the encounters or what exactly was discussed, or why Kushner waited until now to acknowledge this brief encounter.

Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer

Who, what, where, when: Donald Trump, Jr. and family acquaintance Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower for June 9, 2016 with a “Russian government lawyer” promising information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to help the Trump campaign. Trump Jr., Goldstone, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Kushner attended on the Trump side. They met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer; Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin; Ike Kaveladze, a representative for Goldstone’s client, Emin Agalarov, and his father, Aras Agalarov; and translator Anatoli Samochornov.

What’s been reported about it: Kushner was forwarded the entire email chain arranging the meeting, according to the New York Times. His outgoing personal lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the Times that he attended the meeting “at the request of his brother-in-law” and that it was so inconsequential that he didn’t think to include it on his amended security clearance application until his lawyers discovered the emails while preparing for his congressional testimony. Meeting participants said that Veselnitskaya briefly ran through the supposed dirt on Clinton she possessed at the start of the meeting, before pivoting to a discussion of a defunct program allowing U.S. citizens to adopt Russian children.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner said he was asked to attend a “meeting” with his brother-in-law, and that he “did not read” the full email thread detailing the purpose of the meeting. It was scheduled as “Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner,” and “no one else was mentioned” as participating. Kushner said that by the time he arrived, Veselnitskaya was already discussing adoptions and that he emailed an assistant for an excuse to leave because he felt it was a “waste of our time” and he needed to “get back to my work.”

“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,” Kushner wrote.

What we still don’t know: Kushner says he read the email changing the meeting time, but hasn’t said whether the subject line “FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential” on that email caught his attention. He also does not explain why, as a senior campaign official with a packed schedule, he would agree to attend a meeting organized by his brother-in-law with no knowledge of who would be present, what would be discussed, or why he needed to participate. Other participants, including Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., have said Kushner departed the room early, but it’s also unclear when Kushner arrived and what he overheard. Kushner’s statement said he arrived “a little late,” but Veselnitskaya said he was “only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes,” which is when Trump Jr. said she presented the information about Clinton.

Trump Tower meeting with Russia’s ambassador

Who, what, where, when: Kushner met with Kislyak at Trump Tower on Dec. 1, 2016, where they discussed establishing a direct line of communications between the Kremlin and the transition team. Michael Flynn, then named as the incoming national security adviser, was also present for the meeting.

What’s been reported about it: The Washington Post reported that Kushner proposed setting up a secret, secure communications line between Trump’s transition team and Russia. To the surprise of Kislyak, Kushner himself proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities to discuss U.S.-Russia policy without being monitored by the U.S. intelligence community, per the Post. The New York Times reported that the intention was to have Flynn directly speak to a senior military official in Moscow about Syria and other policy concerns.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner wrote that he waited two weeks after first receiving a request from Kislyak to arrange a meeting. He said he had no ongoing relationship with the Russian ambassador and had to email a contact to ask for the ambassador’s name the day after the election in order to confirm the validity of a congratulatory email from Putin’s office. According to Kushner, during the “twenty-thirty minute”-long meeting, he “stated our desire for a fresh start in relations” and asked who in Russia’s government to contact for direct discussions.

According to Kushner, Kislyak said he wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and asked if there was a secure line to convey this information to the transition team. In response, “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 wrote. Kislyak said “that would not be possible” and the conversation stalled; according to Kushner, the conversation did not amount to a request for “a ‘secret back channel’” and U.S. sanctions against Russia were never raised.

What we still don’t know: Setting aside the oddness of Kushner emailing a contact for Kislyak’s name rather than doing a quick Google search, his statement doesn’t address the fact that the media and Democratic lawmakers had been raising concerns about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia for months by the time he agreed to the meeting with Kislyak.

It’s also unknown if Kushner and the ambassador had additional conversations over the phone. Reuters reported that the pair had two calls between April and November 2016; Kushner said in his statement that he could not find records of those conversations and is “highly skeptical these calls took place.”

Trump Tower meeting with a Russian banker

Who, what, where, when: Kushner met with the CEO of Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, at Trump Tower on Dec. 13, 2016. The Russian financial institution was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

What’s been reported about it: After Kislyak requested a second meeting to “deliver a message,” Kushner dispatched a deputy to go in his stead, the New York Times reported. At the time, Kushner was still serving as chief executive of Kushner Companies, his family real estate business, and seeking funding for 666 Fifth Avenue, an overleveraged office tower in Manhattan. While Trump’s campaign said Kushner arranged the meeting in his official capacity as the campaign’s liaison to foreign entities, Gorkov told the press that it was a business meeting.

What Kushner says happened: Kushner acknowledges that he agreed to attend a sit-down with Gorkov at Kislyak’s urging. He said he received two small gifts from Gorkov, which he formally registered with the transition, and that Gorkov made “some statements about the Russian economy.” They did not discuss “specific policies,” sanctions, or his business dealings, Kushner wrote.

What we still don’t know: It’s unclear why Gorkov and White House officials differed on which hat Kushner was wearing during the meeting: campaign official or real estate tycoon. It’s also unclear how much Kushner knew about Gorkov, who has close ties to Putin, before taking the meeting, or why he agreed to meet with the banker days after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had worked to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

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