WASHINGTON: Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, said on Monday he "did not collude" with Russia and had roughly four meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition.
In a written statement released ahead of his scheduled appearance before lawmakers in closed-door sessions, Kushner said his initial security clearance form had been submitted prematurely in error and had omitted all foreign contacts.
"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government," Kushner said.
"I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector," he said.
Kushner faces two days of closed-door questioning from Congress as lawmakers try to determine whether Trump's campaign enlisted Russia's help to win the White House in last year's election.
Kushner is scheduled to address the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday.
Trump has been dogged by allegations that his campaign aides worked with Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of interfering in the election. Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Moscow.
Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. released emails this month that showed Trump Jr. appeared to welcome the prospect of damaging information from the Russian government about Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Members of both committees say they are eager to hear about the June 2016 meeting involving Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were also at the meeting.
Kushner described it as a waste of time.
"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.'" He said no part of the meeting he attended "included anything about the campaign" and he had no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is negotiating with Manafort and Trump Jr. about testifying in a public hearing.
NO SECRET BACK CHANNEL
Kushner will also face questions about reports he tried to set up a secret back channel to Moscow, as well as other contacts with top Russian officials and business leaders.
Kushner said he first met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Washington in April 2016 and shook hands. He said he did not recall phone calls with Kislyak between April and November of that year as reported Reuters in May, had found no evidence of the calls in phone records and was skeptical they took place.
In a meeting with Kislyak after the election, on Dec. 1, Kushner said he articulated a desire for the United States to make a fresh start with Russia.
"The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day," he said.
He said the Russian ambassador asked if there was a secure line in Trump's transition office to facilitate a discussion with Russian generals about Syria. There was not.
Kushner suggested arranging something through an existing communications channel at the Russian embassy, but Kislyak indicated that was not possible and they agreed to follow up after the inauguration.
"Nothing else occurred. I did not suggest a 'secret back channel.' I did not suggest an ongoing secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office," Kushner said. "I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period. We did not discuss sanctions." Kushner said he met on Dec. 13 with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, because Kislyak's insistence and because he had a "direct relationship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama's administration were not discussed nor were Kushner's business activities, Kushner said.
"I did not know or have any contact with Mr. Gorkov before that meeting, and I have had no reason to connect with him since," Kushner wrote.
Kushner did not initially disclose any meetings with Russians on forms he filed to get a government security clearance. He has since revised those forms several times.
He said the forms were initially submitted prematurely in error and omitted all foreign contacts he had had, not just those with Russian officials.
Trump said the investigations in Congress and the Justice Department are politically motivated.
In a pair of tweets early Monday morning, the president lashed out at the ongoing investigation, the media and Washington at large. Without giving proof, he said no evidence had been found regarding Russia and said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer had cast blame on Democrats, not Russia, for the election loss.
"Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer - it's actually much worse than anyone ever thought, and it begins with the Fake News!" Trump wrote, adding: "After 1 year of investigation with Zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer just stated that "Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia." In an interview with the Washington Post over the weekend, Schumer said Democrats failed to deliver a strong message during the campaign.
Representatives for Schumer could not be reached immediately for comment.