Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner has spent much of the past few months playing a cat-and-mouse game with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators working to unearth possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. But several media reports this week detailing missing documents that the president’s son-in-law may have kept from congressional investigators suggest that the walls around him may be closing in.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that Kushner had been forwarded a chain of emails during the 2016 campaign from someone looking to set up a meeting between then-candidate Trump’s people and Vladimir Putin. Senate Judiciary Committee members have accused Kushner of hiding the emails from investigators, among a number of other things.
According to the report, Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian central bank, sought to meet with Trump in May 2016, reaching out through a Christian advocate from West Virginia named Rick Clay. The Times noted that Torshin “has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime,” and allegedly laundered money for the Russian mob through Spanish banks during his time in Parliament, a charge he has denied.
The email chain, titled “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” detailed a request that the two parties meet over a dinner for wounded veterans that Clay had arranged in Louisville, Kentucky that month. Then-candidate Trump was set to appear at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual convention in the same city that week. (Torshin himself is a member of the NRA and, as the Times reported, “a vocal advocate for gun rights in Russia.”) Torshin reportedly believed that the Russians had “shared Christian values” with the Trump campaign.
The email managed to make its way through campaign aide Rick Dearborn to the upper echelons of the Trump campaign, in which Kushner was serving as a senior adviser. Kushner, according to NBC News, “rebuffed” the request, telling Dearborn and other campaign staff that the offer hadn’t been verified.
According to a letter his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, Kushner at the time wrote, “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings.”
Clay, for his part, told the Times that he agreed with Kushner’s decision.
“He told me it was inappropriate,” Clay said, referring to Dearborn, who had forwarded the rejection. “I agreed with him.”
However, Torshin eventually got his way, meeting with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., at the aforementioned NRA convention that month. According to NBC, the two were seated next to each other during a private dinner that weekend.
The latest developments follow on the heels of news that Kushner may have been less than forthcoming about the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks.
According to CNN, in July, Kushner told congressional investigators that he “did not recall” whether anyone on the campaign had contact with the website, adding that he had not personally contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange himself.
But a letter from Judiciary Committee members Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), its top-ranking Democrat, subsequently showed that this may not have been the case. According to the letter, which was sent to Kushner’s attorney on Thursday, Kushner in fact received an email from Trump Jr. in September 2016 regarding several Twitter messages WikiLeaks had sent him. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign spokeswoman and current White House communications director Hope Hicks.
Both Trump Jr. and then-candidate Trump appear to have acted on at least a few of the messages WikiLeaks sent.
“[…] Other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Мr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote on Thursday. “Such documents should have been produced in response to the third request but were not.”
In a statement to CNN on Friday evening, attorney Lowell responded to the letter directly, calling it a “classic gotcha” moment.
“Mr. Kushner was asked if he had contacts with Wikileaks, Guccifer or DC Leaks and said no. He also said he did not know of such contacts by the campaign,” Lowell wrote. “From all I have now seen, his statement was accurate then as it is now. In over 6 hours of voluntary testimony, Mr Kushner answered all questions put to him and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia.”