UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Lawmakers Want Sessions and Kushner to Clear Up Their Russia Testimonies
New revelations suggest that Trump’s son-in-law and attorney general may have been less than forthcoming in their previous trips to the Hill.
Pressure is mounting on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top White House adviser Jared Kushner to answer questions about alleged misstatements both officials made to lawmakers in previous sessions.
So far, it’s mostly Democrats demanding explanations for undisclosed conversations and business investments. But in the past few days, some Republicans have also begun to join the chorus.
“Jeff, you need to tell us everything you know about Russia,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Sunday.
Sessions will return to Capitol Hill next week for a routine Justice Department oversight hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Once there, he is likely to be grilled about recent revelations regarding his knowledge of Trump campaign-related outreach to Russians. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are seeking to bring Kushner to Capitol Hill for questioning over a previously undisclosed business transaction that was revealed in the “Paradise Papers” over the weekend.
“I believe that whenever there are discrepancies in testimony, regardless of who it is, that we should recall people,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
At issue is now infamous sworn testimony Sessions gave on Capitol Hill earlier this year, in which he insisted that he had no knowledge of conversations between Trump campaign officials and Russians during the election.
The Attorney General has maintained that position. But top ex-campaign aides revealed in recent public statements that Sessions was indeed informed multiple times about campaign officials’ contacts with Russians. Additionally, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page testified to the House Intelligence Committee last week that he informed Sessions “in passing” of his July 2016 trip to Moscow, and that Sessions “advised nothing.”
It wasn’t just Page who was in repeated contact with Russians during the campaign. Court documents from the special counsel probe show that George Papadopoulos—a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with Robert Mueller’s team—informed both Trump and Sessions about his “frequent” conversations with Russian officials. Furthermore, campaign adviser J.D. Gordon said that Sessions batted down the idea of Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite those revelations, not all Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are inclined to demand more clarification from Sessions.
“I’ll let the intelligence committee and others move forward on that,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who sits on the committee, told The Daily Beast.
But Senate Intelligence Committee members may take another stab. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of that committee, said he was talking with Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) about “the ability to kind of clarify what happened or didn’t happen with these meetings with Papadopoulos.” Sessions will reportedly appear before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian election meddling, in addition to the House Judiciary Committee.
The new information gleaned from Page and Papadopoulos underscores the extent to which lawmakers themselves are still connecting the dots on whether Trump associates colluded with Russian operatives to tip the election.
For months now, Sessions has played an intriguing role in this saga. When former FBI Director James Comey testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, he said that the FBI decided against telling the Attorney General that Trump asked Comey to “lift the cloud” of the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. That decision was made before Sessions officially recused himself from helming the Russia probe. But Comey said he believed Sessions’ recusal was “inevitable,” and that he did not share that information in part because of “facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.”
The following week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Sessions at a separate hearing what “problematic” aspects Comey was referencing.
“There are none, Senator Wyden,” Sessions said defiantly. “There are none.”
In the meantime, Kushner also faces new questions about his business relationships with Russians. Documents revealed on Sunday as part of the “Paradise Papers” leak showed that Russian tech magnate Yuri Milner invested $850,000 in a startup that Kushner co-founded in 2014 called Cadre. Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, said in July that he told the Senate Intelligence Committee he never “relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.” He still holds a stake in Cadre.
“If anything, what happened last week with Paul Manafort and Papadopoulos highlights how important the ‘follow the money’ issues are,” Wyden told The Daily Beast. “I certainly want Jared Kushner back because I felt that the way he gamed the committee before and made that public statement, ‘we don’t rely on the Russians for financing’—’rely’ is a very subjective word. So you bet, he ought to be back.”
While Wyden was itching to re-question Kushner in light of the new information, other Democrats were not as openly eager to flag the Milner connection. Warner, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, did not raise concerns about the Russian’s investment in Kushner’s startup. “There was lots of things in the ‘Paradise Papers.’ I’m still trying to go through them,” he told The Daily Beast.
The “Paradise Papers” also revealed that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross might have concealed his ties to a Russian energy company that is partly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s judo partner Gennady Timchenko and Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov. Through offshore investments, Ross held a stake in Navigator Holdings, which had a close business relationship with the Russian firm.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Ross had disclosed that business connection to the committee during his confirmation process, but that it did not come up during his formal hearing.
“I think he did everything he was supposed to do in terms of complying with the requirements of the law,” Thune said. “As far as I can tell, it’s a fairly indirect connection, or linkage. And he’s a guy that has business interests all over the world. So I think you would expect that.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who called Ross’ financial disclosures a “Russian nesting doll,” said the commerce secretary “ought to welcome the opportunity to come back to the committee to clarify his ownership stake in any problematic investments.”