WASHINGTON — President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, described himself to Senate investigators on Monday as a political and foreign policy neophyte who met with Russians as part of a hectic and unconventional presidential campaign, not as part of a plot to steer the election.
“All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign,” Mr. Kushner told reporters on the White House grounds after two hours behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. “I did not collude with Russians, nor do I know of anyone in the campaign who did.”
Hours before he traveled to Capitol Hill for his session with the investigators, Mr. Kushner, a senior White House adviser, released a lengthy written statement explaining the purpose of a number of contacts with Russians last year — meetings that have thrust him into the middle of a controversy that has engulfed the early months of the Trump administration.
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The decision to release the statement, and to appear voluntarily before Congress, is a clear strategy to try to navigate a political storm. His meetings with a Russian ambassador, lawyer and banker have prompted questions about his honesty, and calls from Democrats to deny him access to classified information. By being the first member of Mr. Trump’s campaign inner circle to speak to congressional investigators, he was able to shape the narrative with his version of a still murky chain of events.
But Monday’s moves were not without legal risk. Though he was not under oath when he spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee, lying to Congress is a federal crime. His public statement was frequently unequivocal, leaving him little room for maneuver if new evidence emerges to contradict his story.
The Justice Department and congressional committees are investigating whether anyone around Mr. Trump conspired with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election, and whether President Trump tried to impede the investigation.
During his public statement on Monday, Mr. Kusher said Mr. Trump won the election because he had a better message and ran a smarter campaign than Hillary Clinton, not because he had any help from Russia.
“Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him,” Mr. Kushner said. He took no questions from reporters.
Months of reports about repeated contacts last year between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russians have buffeted Mr. Trump’s staff. Administration officials once flatly denied there had been any meetings with Russians during the campaign or transition, only to have journalists discover one meeting after another. This month, The New York Times reported that senior campaign staff, including Mr. Kushner, met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer on the explicit promise of receiving of damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.
An email to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and the person who set the meeting up, said the information was part of the Russian government’s campaign to support the elder Mr. Trump.
Mr. Kushner said he was unaware of the promise of damaging information because he did not read the email chain forwarded to him by Donald Trump Jr, titled “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” He said he arrived at the meeting late and left early, after emailing his assistant asking for an excuse to escape.
That account steers questions about the meeting squarely to Donald J. Trump Jr. and Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman who also attended the June 2016 meeting. Both men are in discussions with Congress about when they will appear before investigators.
During his meeting with congressional staff, Mr. Kushner acknowledged that after the November election, he sought a direct line of communication to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. He characterized that action as a routine part of his job in establishing foreign contacts for Mr. Trump’s transition team.
“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,” Mr. Kushner said.
Mr. Kushner said he met the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, in December, along with Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Mr. Kushner said that he expressed hope during the meeting that the new administration would have an improved relationship with Moscow, and that he had asked Mr. Kislyak whom he should talk to who was in direct contact with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Kislyak said “generals” in Russia had important information to share about Syria, Mr. Kushner recalled. The United States and Russia are the dominant proxy powers in Syria’s civil war.
“He asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation,” Mr. Kushner said. “General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use.”
That request, first reported by The Washington Post and since confirmed by former senior American officials, generated suspicion that Mr. Kushner was trying to avoid American surveillance. Mr. Kushner denied that. “I did not suggest a secret back channel,” he said. When Mr. Kislyak rejected the idea of using the Russian Embassy, Mr. Kushner said, they dropped the discussion.
Days later, Mr. Kushner met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a bank under American sanctions. Mr. Kushner said that Mr. Kislyak had described Mr. Gorkov as someone “with a direct line to the Russian president who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.”
While meetings with foreign diplomats are common during presidential transition, the Gorkov meeting was unusual because his bank is under sanctions by the American government and has ties to Russian intelligence. Aides to Mr. Kushner have said that, in the frenzy of transition and after an election that Mr. Trump’s team did not expect to win, Mr. Kushner’s meetings were not vetted ahead of time as they would have been during a typical transition.
Mr. Gorkov gave Mr. Kushner a piece of art and a bag of dirt from his family’s ancestral village in Belarus. “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,” Mr. Kushner said.
He said that he had regarded it as a campaign meeting and that business deals were not discussed. And Mr. Kushner said he had disclosed the gifts to the transition office — a sign, he said, that the meeting was no secret.
Mr. Kushner said he did not discuss specific policies, including American sanctions against Russia, with either Mr. Kislyak or with Mr. Gorkov.
Mr. Kushner’s meetings attracted special attention because he did not initially disclose them on federal forms required for his security clearance. Mr. Kushner said that his staff members had inadvertently filed an incomplete form, leaving off all foreign contacts — not just Russian ones — as well as other information.
By making his prepared remarks public, Mr. Kushner ensured that his version of events would be seen in full. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday with House investigators, again in private.
Several White House aides have expressed concern about appearing before Congress behind closed doors.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide who spoke to the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session on July 14, has urged officials to release a transcript of his appearance after a Democratic congresswoman who did not attend the hearing told CNN that Mr. Caputo may have “lied” to the committee.
“I’m warning anybody who would listen against doing a closed hearing in the future,” Mr. Caputo said in an interview.
Roger Stone, one of Mr. Trump’s longest-serving advisers, was scheduled to appear at a closed session this week, but it was postponed. Mr. Stone said he wanted to make an immediate release of the transcript of the session a condition of his appearance.
“It’s not an unreasonable request,” Mr. Stone said. “Everybody in this lineup should be concerned.”
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