On Monday, after telling the Senate Intelligence Committee about his meetings with Russians, Jared Kushner walked out of the White House to assure the world of his candor and humility. “I have not sought the spotlight,” he told reporters. “I have always focused on setting and achieving goals and have left it to others to work on media and public perception. Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying that I was eager to share any information I have with the investigating bodies.”
It’s true that Kushner has let others do the talking. Most people had never even heard the sound of his voice until Monday. But Kushner hasn’t been quiet for modesty’s sake. He’s been coy about the truth. He has known about contacts between Russians and the Trump team, and has kept silent about them, as his colleagues publicly denied that such contacts took place. Why? Perhaps it’s cowardice, dishonesty, arrogance, or bad judgment. More likely, it’s all of the above.
In his statement to the committee, Kushner confirms that on Dec. 1, he and Michael Flynn, who was then Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, met at Trump Tower with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Kushner concedes what the Washington Post reported two months ago: that in response to Kislyak’s offer of secret communication from Russian generals, Kushner asked the ambassador whether Russia had a “communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.”
Kushner portrays this conversation as no different from courtesies given to other foreign governments. But nothing like it appears anywhere else in his 11-page statement. Kushner proposed to use the equipment of only one country—the country that had just interfered in our election, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment issued several weeks earlier—to keep communications between that country and the Trump transition team hidden from everyone else, including the U.S. government.
This isn’t the sort of meeting you’d forget, particularly if you were the one who proposed the covert channel. Yet Kushner kept mum about it for three months as the incoming administration made numerous statements he knew to be false. In mid-January, word leaked out that Flynn, in a Dec. 29 phone conversation with Kislyak, had discussed the possibility of easing sanctions on Russia. White House officials, led by Vice President Mike Pence and then–Press Secretary Sean Spicer, repeatedly denied that Flynn had talked with with Kislyak before late December. These denials were issued on national television. Yet Kushner, who had attended the Dec. 1 meeting with Flynn, said nothing.
Kushner didn’t just ignore what was said on TV. He concealed what he knew even when he was directly asked. In January and February, as Flynn’s deceit began to unravel, White House officials debated what to do with him. Kushner was involved in the debate but, according to senior advisers, never told his colleagues about his meeting with Flynn and Kislyak. When the New Yorker discovered that Kushner had met with Kislyak, the White House issued a statement calling it a “brief meeting” and implied that it was only between “the two” of them. The statement, which must have been cleared with Kushner, erased Flynn from the scene.
In his presentation to the Senate committee, Kushner says that Kislyak’s overture was only about Syria, that his suggestion to use the Russian embassy to communicate was a one-time proposal, and that nothing came of it. But he offers no explanation for his deceptive silence. Nor does he explain why he kept quiet for weeks, if not months, about emails showing that in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. accepted a meeting with “a Russian government attorney”—attended by Kushner and then–campaign manager Paul Manafort—based on an explicit offer of campaign help from “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Kushner says he never read the emails. He claims that he showed up as requested to meet the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya but found the meeting useless. Even if you buy that, it doesn’t explain why Kushner stayed silent after his attorneys, by his own account, alerted him to the full email exchange. “It was shown to me by my lawyers” as they prepared him to answer congressional inquiries, he writes. Presumably this happened between May 11, when Kushner revised his security clearance form to include the Kislyak meeting, and June 21, when he amended it again to include the Veselnitskaya meeting.
By putting the meeting on his form, Kushner did what was legally required. He says he did this “soon after I was reminded of the meeting,” but he says nothing about disclosing the emails, which were far more damning. The meeting wasn’t reported publicly until July 8, and President Trump claims to have learned of it around that time. So for at least two weeks, Kushner kept the emails to himself as White House officials and Republican lawmakers denied any evidence of collusion.
What did Kushner tell Trump, and when? The Times, citing White House advisers, reported on July 12 that Kushner “met with Mr. Trump to discuss the issue … around the time he updated his federal disclosure form.” But two sources also told the paper that in this conversation, “Kushner played down the significance of the meeting and omitted significant details … Mr. Kushner informed the president that he had met with a Russian foreign national, and that while he had to report the name, it would not cause a problem for the administration.”
Why would Kushner omit crucial details? For the same reason he didn’t tell us, or ostensibly his White House colleagues, about Flynn’s meeting with Kislyak. Maybe Kushner is a loner who leaves others to fend for themselves. Maybe he’s an aristocrat who thinks the public doesn’t need to know such things. Maybe he’s a coward who can’t bring himself to tell the people he works with, including his father-in-law, what he’s done.
But the fourth explanation might be worse: Kushner, like Don Jr. and the rest of the Trump family and its enablers, is blind to moral significance. He really thinks the meetings with Kislyak and Veselnitskaya were no big deal. That’s why he didn’t tell colleagues about the Kislyak meeting, according to a White House spokeswoman: “because in Mr. Kushner’s view the meetings were inconsequential, it did not occur to him to mention them to senior staff members earlier.” It’s also why he downplayed the Veselnitskaya meeting in his conversation with Trump, reasoning, according to a White House official, that “nothing came of” the meeting.
In this respect, Kushner is no different from Don Jr., Manafort, Trump, and the rest of the characters in the Russia scandal. They see nothing wrong with accepting secret campaign assistance from a hostile regime or with setting up a channel to communicate with that regime behind the back of the U.S. government. And that’s why everything these people did must be fully investigated: Because when they say nothing important happened, they don’t even know what that means.