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Rep. Stewart: Kushner testimony ‘didn’t have much to add’ to Russia story

July 25, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner met privately with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, answering more questions on Capitol Hill about his interactions with Russian officials during the campaign and beyond. William Brangham speaks with Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the committee, about what questions he had going into the meeting with Kushner.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Late today, the Senate Judiciary Committee rescinded its subpoena for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Negotiations continue on when and how he will testify.

Earlier, it was round two for Jared Kushner. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser answered more questions on Capitol Hill about his interactions with Russian officials during the campaign and beyond.

William Brangham has that.

WATCH: Why there is so much focus on Jared Kushner’s Russia contacts

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yesterday, Kushner released an 11-page document detailing several meetings he had with Russian citizens and officials while working on his father-in-law’s campaign and transition.

Kushner said there was absolutely no collusion and no improper contacts, even though he initially failed to disclose these meetings, as required by law.

For more on this, we talk with two lawmakers who questioned Kushner today in that closed session.

First, earlier today, I spoke with Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, who’s on the House Intelligence Committee. I asked him what questions he had going into today’s meeting.

REP. CHRIS STEWART, R-Utah: You know, we wanted to know some of the details about obviously his meetings with some of the people associated with Russia and who set up those meetings, what he knew about those meetings, what came out of those meetings.

I got to tell you, though, that for those who are hoping and looking for the impeachment of Donald Trump, Jared Kushner is not that guy. I mean, he’s not going to carry that narrative chord.

He’s very sincere, very honest, and he just didn’t have much to add to this story in those who are looking for evidence of collusion.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the issues that I know came up yesterday, and I’m assuming today, was his federal disclosure form, where he, as an incoming member of the administration, is supposed to disclose all these meetings he may have had with foreign officials.

And apparently he had to update that document three different times, saying he forgot initially. He chalked it up yesterday to something of a rookie mistake.

Did your questions to him today assuage any doubts you might have about that particular issue?

REP. CHRIS STEWART: Yes, you know, that was one things we did want to talk about. And it really was answered I think to all of our satisfaction.

And it’s really very simple. The SF-86 is a very complicated document. I had to do one as an Air Force pilot. You go back 10 years, in some cases, more than that. You have to provide in some cases hundreds of pages of information.

And it’s not at all unusual for someone to update or to modify that document. In fact, they expect that you will. They expect that, as you kind of dive into this process, you’re going to remember things.

And in this case, the explanation was even more simple than that. It was more than it is a complicated document. It was that they admit that they filed that document by mistake and didn’t have some of this information on.

But they recognized that immediately, and within a day had updated it. And so it wasn’t just Russian officials that they didn’t include. There were officials with — or meetings with King Abdullah, a meeting with some other — Benjamin Netanyahu, people that they clearly would have remembered. They just didn’t have it on that form, recognized that error, and, I would say within 24 hours had already corrected it.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There is also a question about whether Kushner had participated in or asked the Russian ambassador to help set up this back-channel line of communications with the Russians.

Did you talk with him about that today, and what did he say about that?

REP. CHRIS STEWART: Yes, our conclusion is that he didn’t intend for there to be any back-channel communications. It was just to facilitate what they thought was one conversation that some Russian officials wanted to have about, you know, developing relationships with the incoming administration.

They didn’t have any secure phones, and so they just simply asked, do you have a secure phone? That conversation didn’t take place, and that was really kind of the beginning and end of it.

So, it is one of those things where you do wonder when you hear about this and you read the press reports, but then when you actually have a chance to talk to the witness, you realize, again, there is a very reasonable explanation for it, and there isn’t much more to pursue.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Some of your colleagues and some others have said that, given the questions swirling around Kushner, that he shouldn’t have a security clearance to see top-secret national security information. Do you think that that’s — do you think he should lose his privileges?

REP. CHRIS STEWART: No, I just think that’s nuts.

Look, if he’s this done something wrong and if someone has evidence that he did something wrong and that we can actually say, OK, that’s a security violation or a security concern, then, well, let’s deal with that.

But if your only objection to him is saying that he had to add additional information to this form that they requested, then I just think it’s inappropriate for someone to say that that would preclude him from holding a security clearance.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, Congressman, just shifting gears a tiny bit, the president, as you know, has been quite tough recently on his attorney general.

And I’m just curious for your take on that. As a member of his own party, what does that atmosphere do to this ongoing investigation?

REP. CHRIS STEWART: Yes. You know, I support our president and I defend him when it’s appropriate when I think that he’s being, you know, unfairly attacked or criticized.

But, on the other hand, there are times when I disagree with him. And this is one of those times. I think the attorney general is one of the most honorable, sincere men in government. That’s certainly been my interactions with him. And when you see him testify and others, I think most American people feel that that way.

And I don’t — just don’t understand why he wouldn’t and I, in fact, expect that he should continue as our attorney general.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Congressman Chris Stewart, thank you very much for being here.

REP. CHRIS STEWART: All right, thank you.

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