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Jared Kushner faces hostile questioning by House Democrats

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-07-2017 Billy House

Washington/New York: Democrats will press the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, about his meeting with a Russian banker and his attempt to establish a back-channel with the Russian government during a closed-door interview before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

It’s Kushner’s second appearance in as many days before congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But his House interview has the potential to be quarrelsome, as elected members of the panel plan to ask questions themselves instead of leaving the interrogation to their staffs, as the Senate Intelligence Committee did on Monday.

Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley said he wants to press Kushner about his meeting during the presidential transition with the head of the Russian Vnesheconombank, Sergey Gorkov. The state-owned bank is under US sanctions and is a focus of US intelligence agencies’ scrutiny.

“Why would you meet with the head of the sanctioned Russian bank in the first place?” Quigley said. 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.”

Kushner, 36, has emerged as a central figure in the Russia investigations, which seek to determine whether President Donald 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.

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!”

‘Did not collude’

Kushner said in a written statement released by his representatives early on Monday that he met with Gorkov, the Russian banker, at the request of the Russian ambassador to the US, 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 US 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 is also sure to face questions from House members about his participation in a June 2016 meeting with 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 US 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.”

Back-channel

The back-channel that Quigley wants to investigate arose at a meeting with Kislyak on 1 December, 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, 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.”

Limited interview

Democrats said that Kushner’s legal team has limited his appearance before the House committee to two hours. Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro said he wants 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 campaign during which Kushner received hundreds of requests for meetings and at times couldn’t even 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. Bloomberg

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