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Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner today dramatically revealed details of contacts with a Russian ambassador, a Russian banker and a Russian lawyer before the controversial Republican moved into the White House.
Ahead of being grilled by a Senate panel, senior White House adviser Mr Kushner issued an 11-page statement denying collusion with any Russians during the US election campaign and the presidential transition period after Mr Trump’s victory.
He also rejected claims that he had sought to set up a secret “back channel” to Moscow.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” he said before appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
However, some of the revelations in the statement will inevitably raise fresh questions over the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia which has been accused of trying to sway the election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a claim the Kremlin denies.
Mr Kushner, 36, who is married to Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, said he had “perhaps four contacts with Russian representatives”.
- In April 2016, he met the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, before a foreign policy speech by Mr Trump. Mr Kushner said he could not recall two alleged phone calls with Mr Kislyak between April and November.
- In June 2016, he went to a meeting in Trump Tower after being asked to do so by his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was at the meeting and is alleged to have had some “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. Mr Kushner said when he arrived late, a ban on US adoptions of Russian children was being discussed. He says he decided the meeting was a “waste of time” and that he texted an assistant to call him so he could leave it. “No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign..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’s statement says.
- After the election on December 1, 2016, Mr Kushner met the Russian ambassador again at Trump Tower, attended by General Michael Flynn who briefly became Mr Trump’s national security adviser. Mr Kushner said Mr Kislyak stressed he wanted to address US policy in Syria and wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals” and asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. The statement says: “General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines… and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. “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. I did not suggest a “secret back channel.”
- On December 13, Mr Kushner met banker Sergey Gorkov who was said by the ambassador to have a direct line to Russian president Vladimir Putin. The meeting lasted 25 minutes.
“He said that he was friendly with President Putin, expressed disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations under President Obama and hopes for a better relationship in the future,” explains Mr Kushner.
“There were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.”
The Senate, along with the House and a special counsel, are all investigating Russian alleged interference in the election.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump today lashed out at members of his own Republican Party for doing “very little” to protect him.
The outburst came as US lawmakers stepped up their investigation into alleged ties between his election campaign and Russia. It was set to delve into the president’s own family and the highest echelons of the White House.
“It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President,” Mr Trump tweeted.
In a second message he added: “As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians.”
Washington sources say that Capitol Hill hearings focusing on a controversial meeting between Mr Trump’s inner circle and a Russian lawyer will take place this week against a backdrop of a White House under a “siege mentality” with the president distrustful of even some of his closest aides and intent on going on the offensive against anyone he feels is threatening him.
His son, Donald Trump Jr, has also come under fire for striking a deal with a congressional committee to keep his version of the meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer under wraps at a private session.
The secrecy row blew up after Senator Al Franken insisted the president’s eldest son should be grilled under oath on his Russian connections at Wednesday’s planned public hearing.
Mr Trump Jr and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were due to appear in front of an open Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday to answer questions about the Trump Tower meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. But they reached a compromise with committee chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat member Dianne Feinstein this weekend, agreeing to be interviewed and turn over any documents relating to the June 2016 meeting — as long as they did so in private.
Opponents pounced on the meeting as evidence that Mr Trump Jr was willing to collude with the Russian government to get incriminating information to help his father’s presidential campaign and influence the election. It is illegal under US election law for a campaign to receive a “contribution” from a foreign government or national.
After details of the meeting were revealed by the New York Times, Mr Trump Jr claimed that no “meaningful” information emerged and he insisted that his father was kept in the dark about the rendezvous itself and the arrangements leading up to it.
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