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Kushner to Interns: Trump Team Too Disorganized to Collude With Russia

In off-the-record remarks, the president’s son-in-law offers a unique defense.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24:  U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House advisor, Jared Kushner, departs following a meeting with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Kushner was expected to explain his role in a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer arranged by Donald Trump Jr. where damaging information against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was expected to be revealed.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House advisor, Jared Kushner, departs following a meeting with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Kushner was expected to explain his role in a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer arranged by Donald Trump Jr. where damaging information against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was expected to be revealed. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor. 

“They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” Kushner told congressional interns during a private talk at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on Monday afternoon.

Kushner’s meeting with the interns had been rescheduled from two weeks ago, shortly after which he had to appear before Congress to give testimony about the Russia investigation.

A source provided a copy of written notes on Kushner’s talk and question-and-answer session to Foreign Policy.

For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.

This month, news broke that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer tied to the Kremlin to discuss “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But Trump Jr. says the meeting wasn’t valuable, and Kushner later said he didn’t even read the emails about the meeting and left early.

President Trump has said that “most people would have taken that meeting,” which he described as “opposition research.”

After his talk, Kushner answered questions from interns on issues including the investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia and his SF-86 clearance forms.

“We don’t know where it’s going,” he said, when asked about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

Kushner also downplayed his failure to report more than a hundred instances of foreign travel and contacts with foreign officials on his security clearance forms, which he updated twice to include meetings with Russian officials. “There are 127 pages on the SF-86, but there are only two you guys have to worry about,” he said. “Make sure you guys keep track of where you travel.”

Kushner said he didn’t track contacts because he didn’t expect to get into politics, though he worked on his father-in-law’s campaign from the early stages.

He also bragged about the release of an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been trapped in Cairo. The worker, Aya Hijazi, was freed when President Trump publicly embraced autocratic President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Kushner said they made a “great deal” with Sisi, who had “basically destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood,” by taking him aside and asking for a better arrangement.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before the lecture, the intern director warned those present not to leak the contents of the speech, which was given off the record. The director had apparently heard rumors that attendees wanted to livestream the event or hand off notes to their congressional offices to leak to journalists.

“I’m a lot more comfortable talking to you guys today ’cause there isn’t any press,” Kushner said.

Photo credit: WIN McNAMEE/Getty Images

Jenna McLaughlin is Foreign Policy's intelligence reporter. You can reach her on Signal at 203-537-3949. @JennaMC_Laugh

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