Trump Son-In-Law Jared Kushner To Be Questioned By Senate Intel Panel Over Russia

Mar 27, 2017
Originally published on March 27, 2017 4:29 pm

Updated 2:45 p.m. ET

President Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is going to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his meetings with Russian officials, Senate sources tell NPR.

The committee is looking into Russia's attempt to meddle in last year's presidential election, as well as possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Kushner's appearance before the committee was first reported by The New York Times.

The newspaper reported that Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December at Trump Tower and also with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank that is under U.S. sanctions imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

It is unclear when Kushner will appear before the committee or whether the meeting will be open.

A senior White House official tells NPR's Tamara Keith that Kushner volunteered to speak to the panel and notes that he was the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer addressed this at Monday's press briefing and contended there was nothing to see here.

"Given the role that he played" as a point of contact with foreign governments for the Trump team, Spicer said, "he met with countless individuals. That was part of his job."

He added, "You're acting as though there's something nefarious about doing what he was actually tasked to do."

Spicer said that it's not every day a person in a senior position volunteers to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee and that "based on the media frenzy that existed around this, he volunteered to make sure that he said, 'Hey, we made some contacts, I'd be glad to explain them. Let me know if you'd like to talk.' Plain and simple."

The committee is scheduled to hold its first open hearing in its Russia investigation on Thursday with expert witnesses on Russia and cybersecurity.

The revelation about the committee's interest in Kushner comes as the White House was preparing to announce that he'll be in charge of a new White House Office of American Innovation, which the Washington Post reports will be a sort of "SWAT Team of strategic consultants ... staffed by former business executives and ... designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington."

This is by no means the first time a presidential administration has attempted to rework the Washington bureaucracy.

In recent history, similar efforts were undertaken at least as far back as the Reagan administration, often resulting in thick reports that, more often than not, were quietly shelved.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We learned today that Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, will be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee is looking into Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. NPR's Brian Naylor is with us now to get us up to date. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: What do we know about Jared Kushner's ties to Russia?

NAYLOR: Well, so, Kelly, we know that Kushner had a meeting with the Russian ambassador back in December during the transition at Trump Tower. We didn't know until The New York Times reported this morning that Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank at the ambassador's request. This bank incidentally has been under U.S. economic sanctions since the Russian takeover of Crimea. The ambassador also had another meeting with one of Kushner's subordinates.

MCEVERS: What is the White House saying about this?

NAYLOR: Well, so they're saying that, you know, having these meetings was just part of Kushner's job during the transition, that he was the liaison between the Trump transition and foreign governments. Here's White House spokesman Sean Spicer during today's briefing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: Throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up. Once we assumed...

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: At the president-elect's request?

SPICER: That's correct. And so given this role, he volunteered to speak with chairman Burr's committee but has not received any confirmation regarding a time for a meeting or anything.

NAYLOR: Spicer said the meeting hasn't been scheduled. And we don't know whether it will be in an open session or not.

MCEVERS: Where is this all going?

NAYLOR: Well, so it's moving on a couple of different fronts. On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee - Senator Burr's committee - will hold its first open hearing on the issue. There will be some cybersecurity experts and a former NSA - National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander will testify. There's also the FBI which is investigating whether there were ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

MCEVERS: Right.

NAYLOR: And then over on the House side, the House Intelligence Committee's holding its own inquiry and has said it'll be interviewing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign adviser Roger Stone.

MCEVERS: And speaking of the House Intelligence Committee, the chairman, Devin Nunes, issued an interesting statement today. Tell us about that.

NAYLOR: Well, yeah. So you may recall last week that Mr. Nunes held a news conference in which he said he'd found out that U.S. intelligence agencies had inadvertently collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.

MCEVERS: Right.

NAYLOR: Now, this was taken by President Trump as a vindication of his tweet that his predecessor, President Obama, had wiretapped his phones. No one was quite sure where Nunes got this from. And Democrats were upset because he hadn't shared it with them. But then he did brief the president. So today, a spokesman says Nunes got it from an unnamed source on the White House grounds. So most of - people are taking this to believe that he was briefed or saw records at the National Security Council next to the White House.

And of course this doesn't mean that the Trump officials were part of an investigation, that presumably the U.S. was listening in on the conversations of foreign officials and the Trump official's conversations were swept up in this. But it does raise questions about whether Nunes can conduct an independent investigation, which Democrats say he can't and that there should be an independent investigation.

MCEVERS: So it sounds like there is a lot of smoke here. But is there any fire? Is there evidence of collusion between Trump advisers and Russia at this point?

NAYLOR: Well, Kelly, that's the big question. And that's what all the investigations are about. There is a lot of smoke. We haven't seen any fire yet. But we do see more smoke every day. You know, the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had to step down after questions were raised about his meetings with the Russian ambassador and that he didn't disclose them to Vice President Pence.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the investigation because he had meetings with a Russian ambassador and now Kushner, who is the closest person to the president who's been caught up in this. And it's another distraction for the president on the heels of, you know, his big failure last Friday to get that health care bill that he had pushed for.

MCEVERS: NPR's Brian Naylor. Thank you.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.