News analysis

Kushner fails to dispel doubts over Russia collusion

Mr Jared Kushner did very well in proving he did not collude with the Russians, President Donald Trump tweeted the morning after his son-in-law's statement to senators investigating Russia's alleged interference in last year's election.

"Witch hunt," he added for good measure. And presumably sarcastically in a reference to his son by First Lady Melania, he added: "Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!"

But the reality is that Mr Kushner has not dispelled doubts over collusion. The statement was just an opener before his cross- questioning - which is what a congressional hearing is - by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. At face value, the statement pleads ignorance as to the nature of the meeting in June last year with a Russian lawyer who was offering Mr Trump's son, Mr Donald Trump Jr, information damaging to Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton.

Painting a picture of a hectic campaign peppered with thousands of meetings, Mr Kushner said he did not read Mr Trump Jr's e-mail and therefore did not know the purpose of the meeting with the lawyer. On another issue - amendments to his disclosure forms - he said his secretary had submitted them prematurely.

He claimed his December 2016 meeting with Mr Sergey Gorkov of the Russian bank Vnesheconombank had nothing to do with his business interests. But on June 1, the Washington Post reported the bank as saying the meeting was to discuss a new business strategy, and Mr Kushner was there as head of his family's real estate business.

Mr Kushner also appears not to have been aware that Mr Gorkov was trained by the Russian intelligence agency FSB and appointed to his position in the bank by Russian President Vladimir Putin; the bank is widely seen as an arm of the Kremlin. The meeting was during the presidential transition; analysts say he should have known better.

The naivety argument is unlikely to cut much ice with a professional investigator like Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is overseeing the FBI's probe into Russia's influence on the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

In effect, Mr Kushner is "caught in the 'I am either a liar or a fool' trap", tweeted Professor Richard Painter, law don at the University of Minnesota, who was former president George W. Bush's chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.

"He goes to meet with the Russians without reading the e-mail describing what it was about? Try that one on Mueller," the professor tweeted.

The 36-year-old's inexperience is showing, analysts say. Mr Kushner has critical responsibilities, including Middle East diplomacy, but "he's way out of his league", Prof Painter said.

"The government should be run like a great American company," Mr Kushner told the Washington Post in a rare interview in March. He is a neophyte in the completely different world of international geopolitics.

Conservative analysts say Mr Trump Jr was also naive to the point of stupidity to agree to the meeting with the Russian lawyer despite a mention in the e-mail correspondence of Russia's support for his father's candidacy. Under American election law, it is illegal to accept any "contribution" from a foreign government or individual.

Also at the meeting was President Trump's former campaign manager, Mr Paul Manafort. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee said it had issued a subpoena to compel his testimony, after his attorney said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Kushner fails to dispel doubts over Russia collusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe