Kushner’s statement describes his ignorance of the people involved in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that resulted—he even says he asked his assistant to make a fake phone call to him, to rescue him from a meeting he and other participants have claimed was about adoptions. But the statement is telling in that it outlines even more approaches, ways the Russians seemed to be poking around for openings. There was the formal meeting with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the reception for Trump’s April 2016 foreign policy speech. Kushner says the encounter “lasted less than a minute”—which other witnesses confirm—and that Kislyak suggested lunch at the embassy, which Kushner says he didn’t take him up on.
Then there was a more aggressive approach, an email from someone using the name Guccifer400, who Kushner says tried to extort the Trump campaign to the tune of 52 bitcoin for not publishing Trump’s tax return. It’s unclear if this was a Russian attempt, or just a highway robber riffing on Guccifer, the publisher of stolen Democratic National Committee documents who American intelligence believe is a front for a Russian government hacker.
After the election, Vladimir Putin reached out directly to the Trump camp to congratulate them on their victory, and Kislyak again asked for a meeting, which took place on December 1, 2016. It is in this meeting, according to Kushner, that the president’s son-in-law asked the Russian if there were “an existing communication channel at his embassy” through which “Russian generals” could supply the Trump transition team with information on Syria. This seems to be a confirmation of the Post’s May story that Kislyak radioed back to Moscow, saying Kushner was looking for a back channel; both the Post story and Kushner’s statement say such a channel was never set up, though Kushner denied it would have constituted a “secret back channel” as the Post described it.
Indeed, the Russians clearly thought the meeting went well, because a week later, according to Kushner, the Russian embassy requested another audience with the Trump team. “I declined,” Kushner wrote in his statement of this request, as well as of the embassy probing for another time Kushner could meet Kislyak. The third poke in this series was the Russians requesting a meeting with Kushner’s assistant. “In order to avoid offending the Ambassador,” Kushner writes, “I agreed.” Kislyak met with Kushner’s assistant on December 12, 2016.
Apparently, this meeting went well, too, but was also an opportunity to find another opening, with Kushner’s assistant reporting back that Kislyak—who, in my personal experience, is not a shy man—wanted yet another meeting. This time it would be with Sergey Gorkov, head of Vneshekonombank (VEB), the Russian state development bank that was, among other things, responsible for building up Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. According to Kushner, Kislyak said Gorkov was “a banker and 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.” Kushner says, “I agreed to meet Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the president, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days.”