Donald Trump

‘Spooked’ Kushner rejects interview on Trump and Russia, US Senator says

Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he plans to release Donald Trump Jr’s interview with the panel

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 3:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 4:06am

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, was so “spooked” by a request for a staff interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee that he has refused, Chairman Chuck Grassley said.

The Iowa Republican said at a committee hearing on Thursday that he now plans to release transcripts of the panel’s interviews with Donald Trump Jnr and others who were in a 2016 meeting between Russians and top Trump campaign officials.

The meeting, held at Trump Tower in New York during the presidential campaign, is one of the clearest known contacts between those close to Trump and Russians.

That means it’s of high interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the congressional committees investigating whether anyone around the president colluded in Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

Trump Jnr has said he took the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because he was promised damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton, but claims nothing came of it. Others attending included Kushner, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and lobbyist and former Soviet counter-intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin.

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It looks like our chance of getting a voluntary interview with Mr Kushner has been shot
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman

“I had hoped to speak with all the witnesses surrounding the Trump Tower meeting before releasing any interview transcripts, but with the unilateral release of the transcript for Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, it seems to have spooked other potential witnesses,” Grassley said.

“As a result it looks like our chance of getting a voluntary interview with Mr Kushner has been shot.”

Kushner’s legal team did not formally decline an appearance with the Senate Judiciary Committee, a person familiar with the matter said.

But they asked for guidance on when lawmakers are allowed to disclose information and whether the committee had received the transcript of Kushner’s interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, created a stir by releasing the transcript of the interview with Simpson, whose firm commissioned a dossier of unverified allegations concerning Trump and Russia.

Republicans say the dossier, largely paid for by Democrats and Clinton’s campaign, was misused to open the continuing investigations into Trump.

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Grassley noted that Feinstein already has access to the transcript of Kushner’s interview with the Intelligence Committee, where the California lawmaker is a senior member, and said he hopes to see it as well.

Grassley said he would discuss how to release the transcripts with Feinstein, and he told reporters he did not know how soon the Trump Tower material will be made public.

“That section of our investigation is done,” Grassley said.

But Feinstein said on Thursday that the committee should still hold public hearings with Kushner and Trump Jnr “which we agreed to pursue last year.”

She also said the transcripts should first be handed over to Mueller.

“I agree the transcripts should be released to Mueller, and to the public when it won’t interfere with the investigation,” Feinstein said in an emailed statement.

In addition to the interview with Trump Jnr, Grassley intends to release transcripts of interviews with other figures involved with the Trump Tower meeting

They include Akhmetshin and Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who helped set up the event, as well as Veselnitskaya’s written answers to questions, according to a Judiciary Committee aide who asked not to be identified discussing the plans.

The announcement by Grassley came a day after two other Judiciary Committee Democrats, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, called on Grassley to share the transcripts with Mueller, particularly the Trump Jnr interview. 

Grassley expressed an openness to sharing the transcripts with Mueller in comments to reporters Wednesday, but he said Mueller had not asked for them.