Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens as US President Donald Trump presides over an African American History Month listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Source: Meeting was to 'engage with' Russia
02:17 - Source: CNN

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Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and banker Sergey Gorkov

According to a source, neither of Kushner's meetings were about sanctions

CNN  — 

When President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and aide Jared Kushner voluntarily appears before the Senate intelligence committee, he will describe his interactions with Russians during the transition as a point man “looking for the right person to engage with on Russia,” and nothing more, according to a source familiar with what transpired.

According to this source, neither of Kushner’s meetings – with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov – were about sanctions, which Russian banks have been lobbying against since they were imposed in 2014.

These were “relationship meetings,” the source said. In Kushner’s meeting with Kislyak, the source added, Kushner asked Kislyak to “identify someone who would be a good intermediary as they were trying to figure out who the right person would be to engage with on Russia.”

The source said the transition team – and Kushner in particular – were looking for ways to establish a back channel to Putin, as they had done with other leaders during the transition.

“In the transition they were looking to establish relationships with foreign leaders, and he took dozens of meetings,” according to the source. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius first reported that Kushner was seeking a back channel to Putin.

In their meeting, Kislyak suggested Kushner also meet with Gorkov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed in February 2016 as chairman of VneshEconomBank, a Russian state development bank that has been under US sanctions since July 2014.

The bank, known as VEB, and its ties to the Russian government could have easily been identified in an internet search. But the Trump transition “had no mechanism for vetting anyone” and it was not done, the source said.

And while Kushner himself could have done a cursory search to find out more about Gorkov, that didn’t happen. “In a more organized transition there would have been someone to vet people before there were meetings,” the source said as explanation, acknowledging “incompetence” in that area of the transition.

The bank’s recent statement that the meeting with Kushner was part of a “roadshow of business meetings” is in clear contrast to Kushner’s view of it. “That wasn’t the purpose of the meeting,” the source said. “That’s ridiculous.”

In addition, the source also said that the meeting with Gorkov was not about business or sanctions or the bank’s “new strategy,” as the bank’s recent press release said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me from what I know,” the source added.

The White House this week insisted that Kushner met as a representative of the incoming Trump administration and the meeting was not consequential.

“Jared attended the meeting in his capacity as a transition official. Nothing of substance was discussed. There was no follow up,” a White House spokesperson said.

And Kushner never followed up with Kislyak. When the ambassador wanted to meet with Kushner again, Kushner didn’t see the purpose in doing it, the source said. His feeling, according to this source, was “why should [Kushner] meet with a person for the second time who told [him] he’s not the right person” to be an intermediary to the Kremlin. As a result, Kushner sent a young aide to meet with the ambassador instead.

The source added that when Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State, the need for a back channel became a moot point, since Tillerson had a wide range of Russian contacts, including with Putin himself.

“After Tillerson was in place, the liaison role that Jared had been playing ended,” the source said, although Kushner obviously remains connected to the foreign policy world in his role at the White House.