Presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner dodged questions Tuesday about why the Trump campaign didn’t publicly reject Russia’s aid during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The moment came at the Time 100 Summit after White House correspondent Brian Bennett asked Kushner why the campaign didn’t tell Russia, “We don’t want your help. Please stop.”
“The notion of what they were doing didn’t register to us as being impactful,” Kushner responded.
Kushner also said the investigations into the president were more damaging than a foreign adversary interfering in elections. “I think the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the past two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads,” he said.
Kushner’s answer was part of longer remarks about the campaign’s digital operations and President Donald Trump’s barnstorming in key swing states during the final days of the campaign. He also repeated Trump’s assertions that Democrats invented the Russian election interference narrative to excuse Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016.
“The one thing the Mueller report was very conclusive on was there was absolutely no coordination or collusion with the Trump campaign,” Kushner continued. “Everything the president’s been saying and I’ve been saying for two years has been fully authenticated.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released last week, found “sweeping and systematic” interference by Russia to tip the election toward Trump. Far from rejecting Russia’s aid, Mueller found, the Trump campaign “expected that it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
One of the report’s largest sections documents “multiple links” between Russia and the Trump campaign, including offers of assistance. They included several direct and indirect contacts Kushner had throughout the campaign and the presidential transition with:
- Dimitri Simes, president of the pro-Russia Center for the National Interest, whom Kushner once emailed to ask the name of the Russian ambassador.
- Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States, whose name Kushner could not remember.
- Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who offered to give the campaign dirt on the Clinton campaign.
- Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Russian banker and close Putin ally Kirill Dmitriev.
The report, based in part on Kushner’s interviews with the special counsel’s office, cleared the campaign of allegations that it criminally conspired with Russia, but it stopped far short of the blanket exoneration that Trump and Kushner claim.
For example, Mueller and his team defined “coordination” as a “tacit or express” agreement between the Trump campaign and Russia. While the report does not say the Trump campaign crossed that line, it offers evidence that the campaign knew about Russian efforts and welcomed the help.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, famously responded “if it’s what you say, I love it,” when Russia reached out through intermediaries to offer him dirt on the Clinton campaign.
“A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts,” the report’s introduction reads, shortly after stating that it did not establish criminal coordination by members of the campaign.