Kushner, Manafort meet with congressional investigators
Washington — Two key members of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign met Tuesday with congressional investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump associates.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner returned to Capitol Hill for a second day of private meetings, this time for a closed-door conversation with lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee.
Separately, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with bipartisan staff of the Senate intelligence committee and “answered their questions fully,” his spokesman, Jason Maloni, said.
Manafort’s discussion with the committee staff was confined to his recollection of a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, according to two people familiar with the interview. Both demanded anonymity to discuss details because the interview occurred behind closed doors.
Manafort also turned over his contemporaneous notes documenting the meeting, one said. The other person said Manafort has agreed to additional interviews with the Senate intelligence committee staff on other topics. Those meetings haven’t yet been scheduled.
Both Manafort and Kushner have faced scrutiny about attending the Trump Tower meeting because it was described in emails to Donald Trump Jr. as part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign.
Kushner spent about three hours Tuesday behind closed doors with the House committee.
“I found him to be straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had,” said Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who is leading the panel’s Russia probe. He said Kushner was willing to follow up with the committee if it has additional questions.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the questions touched on “a range of issues the committee had been concerned about.”
“We appreciate his voluntary willingness to come and testify today,” Schiff added.
On Monday, Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate’s intelligence panel, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide.” He emerged smiling to publicly declare, “All of my actions were proper.”
In an 11-page statement, he acknowledged his Russian contacts during the campaign and immediately after the election, in which he served as a liaison between the transition and foreign governments. He described each contact as either insignificant or routine and he said the meetings, along with several others, were omitted from his security clearance form because of an aide’s error. Kushner cast himself as a political novice learning in real time to juggle “thousands of meetings and interactions” in a fast-paced campaign.
“Let me be very clear,” Kushner said afterward in a rare public statement at the White House. “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”
Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defense from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to tip the 2016 campaign in Trump’s favor. Congressional committees, as well as a Justice Department special counsel, are investigating whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia in that effort and whether the president has sought to hamper the investigations.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that “Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!”
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced they issued a subpoena for Manafort to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a public hearing Wednesday. They said they had been unable to reach agreement with Manafort on the terms of a private and voluntary interview with staff.
In addition, the committee was withdrawing a separate subpoena issued for the co-founder of a research firm behind a dossier of allegations about Trump and his ties to Russia. Instead, Glenn Simpson has agreed to a private interview, according to a person familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Emails released this month show that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., accepted the June 2016 meeting with the idea that he would receive information as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But Kushner said he hadn’t seen those emails until recently shown them by his lawyers.
Kushner, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, called the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.
“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,” he said.
Kushner also confirmed earlier media reports that he had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to set up secure communications between Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s national security adviser, and Russian officials. But he disputed that it was an effort to establish a “secret back channel.”
His statement describes a December meeting with Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Kushner and Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.
Kushner said that when Kislyak asked if there was a secure way for him to provide information from his “generals,” Kushner suggested using facilities at the Russian Embassy.
“The ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” the statement said.