Let's start with what Kushner has said: Did Jeff Sessions get it on with his buddy, Sergey Kislyak, at the Mayflower Hotel?
Let's be more specific. We refer to the April 2016 event at which Candidate Donald J. Trump read a glorious foreign policy speech at the famous hotel.
(Full disclosure: Many of Trump's enemies have said it was the greatest such speech ever given.)
Kislyak was in attendance, presumably vacuuming canapes from the refreshment tables. Sessions was present as well.
According to last Saturday's Washington Post, Kislyak later "told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions" that day.
Was that an accurate statement on the part of the Post? In other words, did Kislyak actually say that to his superiors?
We can't answer that question. We think the Post did a miserable job sourcing its exciting claim in Saturday's news report. We don't know if Kislyak actually said that to his Russkie bosses. More importantly, we also don't know if some such discussion with Session really took place at the famous hotel.
Yesterday, we mentioned a problem with the Post report—the possibility that the Post got caught in a game of Telephone, as has happened before. To start to flesh out this possible problem, let's start with Jared Kushner's written statement about that same event at the Mayflower.
Kushner released his written statement prior to yesterday's meeting with Senate investigators. In this report from today's Washington Post, you see Kushner's account of his own experience at that same exciting event:
BARRET, RUCKER AND DEMIRJIAN (7/25/17): Kushner wrote that his first meeting with a Russian official was in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered a major foreign policy speech, the execution of which Kushner said he oversaw. Kushner wrote that he attended a reception to thank the event’s host, Dimitri Simes, publisher of the National Interest, a foreign policy magazine. Simes introduced Kushner to four ambassadors at the reception, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Kushner said.According to Kushner, he shook hands with the now-famous Russkie, then exchanged a handful of meaningless words.
“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” he wrote. “The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
Is that what actually happened? We have no way of knowing. But just for the sake of illustration, let's assume or imagine that Sessions also did something like that.
After that, let's imagine how Kislyak might have reported this perfunctory encounter back to his Russkie bosses. For purposes of illustration, we'll assume he was playing it straight.
Finally, let's imagine how Kislyak's report might have seemed after it had gone through two or three layers of "Telephone" on its way to the front page of the Washington Post.
We'll continue this rumination tomorrow. We won't be trying to tell you what actually happened, since we have no way of knowing.
Instead, we'll be trying to show you what could possibly be wrong with the work of the Washington Post. They've lost at "Telephone" before, as we'll remind you tomorrow.