WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, is appearing Monday in a closed meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee to describe meetings he had during the presidential campaign, and the transition and their ties, if any, to a probe of Russian influence in the 2016 elections.
On Monday, Kushner released his prepared testimony before appearing. The testimony answers some questions, albeit some incompletely. He or an assistant — Kushner has blamed a major misfire, prematurely filing his security clearance form, on an assistant — bolded the key statement:
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. 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 [security clearance] form, above and beyond what is required.”
Here are some outstanding questions he may face in the meeting.
Why did he walk out?
The committee is expected to ask about a June 9, 2016, meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who the president’s son understood to be a government attorney ready to dispense dirt on Hillary Clinton. Kushner was in attendance and left early, according to the administration. He says as much in his prepared testimony.
“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,” the testimony reads. “I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting. Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, 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.’”
The answer barely explains his hasty retreat. What was there about the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and her company — including a lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence — that led Kushner to think it was better he was absent than present? (Trump Jr. said the lawyer talked about “adoptions”; Russian President Vladimir Putin ended American adoptions in Russia in retaliation for sanctions imposed because of Russian money laundering and human rights abuses.)
What’s with Donald Jr.?
Veselnitskaya says she was not there as a Russian government lawyer. But according to an email chain, that is what Trump Jr. understood her to be. Moreover, according to Akhmetshin, Veselnitskaya during the meeting said she had evidence of illicit funding getting to Clinton. Trump Jr. probed her for more information — seeking intelligence from a figure he understood to be a Russian official or acting on behalf of the government.
It wasn’t the first time Trump Jr.’s judgment was an issue during the campaign. He had interacted several times with figures on the far right, only to say he wasn’t fully aware of their views.
Why is Kushner not being sworn in?
Kushner struck a deal whereby he could deliver his testimony behind closed doors and not under oath. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the stakes are still serious: It’s illegal to lie to Congress, under oath or not.
So why the discretion? According to this 2006 explainer by Slate — written when Bush administration officials were under fire for eavesdropping — some witnesses believe being sworn in suggests a formal investigation. Democrats already are calling for the revocation of Kushner’s security clearance. Avoiding the appearance of being the target of an investigation is good optics for a top White House aide.
What about the Russians?
Kushner’s family real estate company is still deep in hock for his 2008 purchase of a Fifth Avenue high rise. As noted in his statement, he claims not to owe money to Russians. A Guardian expose published Monday says otherwise, reporting that Lev Leviev, the Russian-Israeli businessman, helped Kushner secure the loan. Among the missing items in Kushner’s filings as a government official is $1 billion in loans. To whom?
What about Israel?
And if Kushner has Russia ties, what does that mean for his portfolio (one of many) supervising Middle East peacemaking? Israel’s government is deeply unhappy with the cease-fire deal emerging from the Syria civil war, fearing it hands over too much to Russia’s de facto allies in the conflict, Iran and Hezbollah.
It’s not just the Senate.
Kushner will also appear before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session Tuesday. Its members are also expected to ask why Kushner updated a federal disclosure form three times — to obtain a security clearance — to include the names of 100 foreign contacts he had not previously included.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told “Face the Nation” Sunday that the committee will ask about Kushner’s alleged conversations with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding setting up a secret backchannel communication to the Kremlin.