Kushner denies Russian collusion
The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election entered a new phase this week, as congressional committees began questioning President Donald Trump’s family members and associates. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appeared in closed-door sessions with the Senate and House intelligence committees, and released a statement downplaying his encounters last year with Russian officials and lobbyists. In relation to the meeting with a Russian attorney and a Russian lobbyist at Trump Tower in June 2016, Kushner said he had been too busy to read the email in which the Russians promised Donald Trump Jr. dirt on Hillary Clinton, and claimed he joined the meeting late and quickly left. Kushner also confirmed reports he asked Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about using a secure Russian communications channel, but insisted he did so only because Kislyak told him Russian “generals” had information to provide about Syria. He said he met Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, only as a courtesy, after Kislyak claimed Gorkov had a “direct line” to President Vladimir Putin. “I did not collude with Russians,” Kushner said, “nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”
Paul Manafort, who attended the June meeting as a senior campaign adviser (he was named chairman a few days later), was also questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. Reuters reported that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are targeting the longtime political consultant on possible money-laundering charges in connection with payments he received from Russia-backed Ukrainians, in hopes of “turning” Manafort to testify against others in the Trump campaign.
What the editorials said
Jared Kushner has “introduced a useful precedent for the Trump presidency,” said The Wall Street Journal: “comprehensive disclosure.” Crucially, Kushner provided clear accounts of “what was, and what was not, discussed” during these inconsequential meetings, as well as details that investigators can check. If this is the full extent of Kushner’s contacts, “the collusion narrative will have to find another protagonist.”
Kushner’s defense is that he’s “clueless,” said The Sacramento Bee. Despite Kislyak’s repeated attempts to arrange meetings, Kushner indicated no awareness off why “Russian interests might have wanted to cultivate him.” He blamed oversights for his failure to disclose 100 meetings with foreign nationals on his security clearance form. This is the guy Trump has asked to broker peace in the Middle East and reorganizing the entire federal government. If he’s even half as “naïve” and “incompetent” as he makes out, he’s in way over his head.
What the columnists said
Kushner’s explanations “raise more questions than they answer,” said Sarah Posner in WashingtonPost.com. He didn’t explain how he missed the subject line on Trump Jr.’s email chain—“Russia - Clinton - private and confidential”—or why he didn’t bother “assessing whether the meeting was worth attending.” Nor did he provide a good answer as to why he would agree to communicate with Russia on a secret back channel. As for his insistence he never “relied” on “Russian funds” for his real estate business—what does “rely” mean?
Kushner is definitely hiding something, said Wendy Dent in The Guardian.com. Two of the Russians at the June meeting worked for the oligarch owner of Prevezon, a Russian company that was under investigation by U.S. authorities for “allegedly attempting to use Manhattan real estate deals” to launder stolen Russian money. One of Prevezon’s main business partners is Russian-born billionaire Lev Leviev, from whom Kushner bought $295 million worth of Manhattan office space in 2015. After Trump entered office, his Justice Department abruptly settled the Prevezon money-laundering case for just $6 million—a relative pittance. Was that settlement a quid pro quo for Russian help during the election?
Congressional Republicans deserve credit, said Ramesh Ponnuru in BloombergView.com. Liberals often portray them as “Trump’s enablers,” but “it’s unusual for senators to hold hearings into possible misconduct by a president of their party.” Congress could do more to “address the concerns that Trump’s presidency raises,” but it’s unfair to expect Republican legislators “to sound like the opposition party.”