Jared Kushner, special advisor (and son-in-law) to the US president, was called before the Senate today (July 24) to discuss his June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney said by a middleman to have damaging information on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election adversary, Hillary Clinton.
In connection with an ongoing probe into Russian government meddling in the 2016 election, Kushner made a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, notable mainly for continuing the tradition of Trump administration officials making flimsy excuses for behavior outside the norms for White House personnel.
Some legal experts argue the meeting with the Russian lawyer clearly broke a campaign-finance law that prohibits US citizens from “contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements by foreign nationals,” and from soliciting the same.
Kushner argues his intention was far less sinister than that, explaining: “That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time. As I did with most emails when I was working remotely, I quickly reviewed on my iPhone the relevant message that the meeting would occur at 4:00 PM at his office,” he said.
In another section in Kushner’s statement, he blames disorganization and missteps by his staff for his failure to properly report meetings and business ties in a timely fashion. He writes, for example:
In the week before the Inauguration, amid the scramble of finalizing the unwinding of my involvement from my company, moving my family to Washington, completing the paper work to divest assets and resign from my outside positions and complete my security and financial disclosure forms, people at my New York office were helping me find the information, organize it, review it and put it into the electronic form. They sent an email to my assistant in Washington, communicating that the changes to one particular section were complete; my assistant interpreted that message as meaning that the entire form was completed.
Later he says he couldn’t recall some meetings with officials that should have been disclosed. Kushner, 36, has been tasked with a huge portfolio of issues, including Middle East peace, technology upgrades to the US government, and US-China relations. Meanwhile, his statement leaves the impression of someone barely able to manage a real-estate business, much less an array of global diplomacy issues.
He is hardly alone, though.
Donald Trump Jr. was the one who set up the meeting with Veselnitskaya last June. He made the meeting, and the emails that set it up, public this month, despite the fact that they clearly show he was offered damaging information on Clinton.
But in an interview with Fox News, he said he didn’t know “if there was anything behind” the emails, and that “I don’t think my sirens went [off] or my antenna went up” because the meeting occurred before there was much public focus on Russian meddling in the US election.”
Irrespective of the timing, Trump should have reported the offer to the FBI or other authorities, some legal experts say.
After Trump Jr.’s Fox appearance his father called him a “good boy” and an “honest kid.” Trump Jr. is 39.
In June, former FBI director James Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed Trump was asking him to pledge his loyalty to the president, and to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The notion that an FBI director should be loyal to a US president, rather than to the US constitution, appalled government ethics watchdogs and many in the intelligence community.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan defended Trump’s actions, saying he behaved the way he did because he was just “new to [government].”
Mere weeks after Trump’s inauguration, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway advertised first daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line during a press appearance, telling Fox & Friends viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
The advertisement broke a key ethics rule about “misuse of position” that has guided administrations since 1989. Conway, 50, a lawyer, has worked for numerous members of Congress and several presidential campaigns in her decade-long career, often while based in Washington.
Still, the White House sought to present her as a neophyte who just didn’t understand the complicated ethics rules that guide the federal government. Amid calls for her dismissal, (now former) White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway had been “counseled” and she said she made an apology—not to the American people who pay her salary, but to the president.