President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared C. Kushner, provided the most detailed defense to date against allegations of Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential campaign, telling reporters and staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee he spent hardly any time with anyone affiliated with the Kremlin.
“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 said outside the West Wing Monday. “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.”
Kushner serves as senior adviser to the president, and was copied on an email chain where Trump’s eldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr., expressed interest in receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
However in private testimony and in an 11-page public statement, Kushner denied having any prior knowledge about the purpose of the meeting set up by the email chain. Kushner added that he quickly wanted to leave when the topic of conversation turned to American adoptions in Russia.
“I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for 10 or so minutes and wrote, ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting,’” Kushner said.
In an interview Monday, Jeffrey S. Jacobovitz, an attorney who represented members of the Clinton Administration during the Lewinsky Scandal, said three major takeaways resonated from the closed-door Kushner testimony, beginning with the duration of Monday’s meeting.
Relatively short time spent on questions
“Two hours is really not a long period of time – it means that he wasn’t asked a lot of questions,” Jacobovitz said. “It could be that there was a negotiation to limit the time period. That’s not clear, we don’t know anything about the negotiation between his attorney and the committee.”
The request to testify without cameras is usually granted to protect the dissemination of classified information. Both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees granted the request, with House staffers set to question Kushner Tuesday.
Kushner’s answers not under oath
His statements were not made under oath, but lying before Congress is still considered a federal offense. Up to five years in prison can still be leveled if a witness "knowingly and willfully" gives "materially" false statements to Congress.
“He would be subject to criminal penalty for lying to congressmen, but not being under oath means he’s not subject to perjury, which would be a far more draconian crime,” Jacobovitz said.
Kushner will answer questions before the House intelligence committee Tuesday under the same ground rules.
On defense, pleading ignorance
As the Trump Presidential Campaign pivoted towards the general election, Kushner said he did not read a long email chain setting up a meeting with a Russian lawyer, one where damaging information on Hillary Clinton was promised.
“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 in his public statement.
“He allegedly didn’t know much about the meeting in advance, which would mean that possibly, he’s pinning the blame on others,” Jacobovitz added.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Intelligence Committee, called on Kushner to testify in an open session. He also doubted the presidential adviser’s statements, after months of meetings disclosed first by the news media.
"Kushner has repeatedly concealed information about his personal finances and meetings with foreign officials," Wyden said in a written statement. "There should be no presumption that he is telling the whole truth in this statement."