The saga of Mr. Kushner Goes to Washington (and testifies before the Senate) is kicking into high gear this week. The President’s son-in-law will be testifying in a private session before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning and, to the great consternation of the media, he will not be under oath. This led to a rather pointed exchange on Twitter over the weekend between Jake Tapper and Chuck Grassley.
Confirms CNN reporting that Manafort and Trump Jr will not be under oath when they testify behind closed doors https://t.co/dyrySJGTCY
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 23, 2017
This morning there was yet another twist to the story, however, as Kushner seemed to toss out a preemptive strike in terms of what he would be telling the committee. He released a lengthy statement to the press (link to CNN) detailing what he describes as an effort to, “shed light on issues that have been raised about my role in the Trump for President Campaign and during the transition period.”
He describes his role in the campaign as being, among other things, the point person for foreign contacts who were reaching out to the campaign to establish relationships. Obviously all of the attention will be focused on any Russian interactions and Kushner provides the details, such as they are. He starts with the now “infamous” meeting last April at the Mayflower. It was set up by Dimitri Simes, publisher of The National Interest.
[Simes] introduced me to several guests, among them four ambassadors, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.
By this point I’m sure everyone in the administration knows that there are people leaking like mad and if Kushner doesn’t come clean about any meetings, every omission will be headline news. With that in mind, he’s almost certainly giving up whatever there is, so this meeting sounds like pretty much a nothingburger. But then he moves on to one of the many anonymously sourced reports about additional phone calls to the Russian ambassador which was originally reported by Reuters. As far as that story goes, Kushner is throwing down the gauntlet and pretty much daring them to prove it or be guilty of putting out fake news. (Emphasis added)
Reuters news service has reported that I had two calls with Ambassador Kislyak at some time between April and November of 2016. While I participated in thousands of calls during this period, I do not recall any such calls with the Russian Ambassador. We have reviewed the phone records available to us and have not been able to identify any calls to any number we know to be associated with Ambassador Kislyak and I am highly skeptical these calls took place. A comprehensive review of my land line and cell phone records from the time does not reveal those calls. I had no ongoing relationship with the Ambassador before the election, and had limited knowledge about him then. In fact, on November 9, the day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian Ambassador.
Kushner isn’t definitively saying that the calls never took place, but seems to be providing evidence of a good faith effort to find out if they did and coming up empty. It’s beyond doubt that there were multitudes of people wanting to get on his calendar and that he very likely did take “thousands” of calls during that period, but one would imagine that a chat with the Russian ambassador would stand out in your memory. If Reuters can’t come up with something substantial, either in the form of some phone records or the on-the-record testimony of somebody in the room with either party when the calls took place they may have to eat that one.
The last item of interest from the previously known timeline is his experience with that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Kushner repeats that he was late to the meeting found it of little interest and left early. He claims to have an email which he sent to an aid while the meeting was going on.
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.” I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since.
The rest of it covers the transition period, contacts which were originally omitted from his security clearance forms (and why), and the various other foreign entities he was contacted by. (There’s an interesting bit about receiving a blackmail threat from someone using a “Guccifer400” handle. He showed it to the Secret Service and they told him to ignore it.)
So what do we make of this massive dump of information right before Kushner’s testimony before the committee? Since the event will be closed to the public and not under oath, it sounds like he’s trying to tamp down the rumor mill before the circus of anonymous sources can begin making up their own story. If so, that’s a pretty smart move. If there are any bombshells in the testimony which are either missing from this account or contradict it in any significant way, I have no doubt that the leakers will have it out to either CNN or the Washington Post before the meeting is even over. I’m guessing that Kushner and his legal team are aware of that, so I’d bet that this is either a completely accurate account or at least one which nobody will be able to challenge with any hard evidence.