By Jeff Mason and Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) 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.
The Republican president has said the Russia probes in Congress and the Justice Department are politically motivated.
In a tweet on Monday morning, Trump lashed out at the ongoing investigations.
“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” he added, referring to his former Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
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 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.
The congressional committees, along with federal special counsel Robert Mueller, are examining Russia’s influence in the U.S. election and possible links to Trump’s campaign.
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 by 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.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Eric Walsh; Editing by Alison Williams and Jeffrey Benkoe)
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