Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress last month that White House adviser Jared Kushner went behind his back multiple times to hold meetings with foreign leaders and diplomats, the latest example of the president’s son-in-law holding outsize influence over U.S. foreign policy.
Tillerson spoke with the House Foreign Affairs Committee for more than seven hours as part of a closed-door meeting about his time working for President Donald Trump. The committee published a redacted transcript of his testimony on Thursday, with parts omitted at the request of Tillerson and the State Department.
During the interview, held on May 21, the former secretary of state detailed several instances when Kushner held meetings with the leaders of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At one point, the two countries told Kushner and then-Trump aide Steve Bannon that they were secretly planning a blockade of Qatar, which later escalated into 2017’s Persian Gulf crisis, but Tillerson said he didn’t even know about that meeting until the committee told him last month.
“It makes me angry,” Tillerson said of Kushner and Bannon’s involvement with the Arab leaders, according to the transcript. He was in Australia at the time with then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and both were caught off guard when the blockade went into effect. “I didn’t have a say. The State Department’s views were never expressed.”
Tillerson, whose testimony goes on for 145 pages, also said he once walked into a restaurant to find Kushner having a meeting with Mexico’s foreign secretary without his knowledge. He told the committee he saw “the color go out of” Kushner’s face when he walked up to him at the establishment.
“As it turned out later, the Foreign Secretary was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it,” Tillerson said. “And he was rather shocked to find out that when he started telling me all these things that were news to me, I told him this is the first time I’m hearing of it.”
Trump ultimately fired Tillerson in March 2018 after repeated clashes over foreign policy, replacing him with current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The White House has denied Tillerson’s account, saying in a statement to Politico that the dinner he described in his testimony “never happened” and that no one in the Trump administration was involved in the Qatar blockade.
Kushner has faced near-constant scrutiny over his relationship with the president and his broad duties to liaise with leaders in the Middle East. The president’s son-in-law has close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and has worked on a range of issues including U.S. trade policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tillerson described Kushner as having wide authority to travel abroad without coordinating with the State Department, and said he spoke with him on several occasions in an attempt to be better informed of any official travel.
“On occasion the president’s senior adviser would make trips abroad and . . . was in charge of his own agenda,” Tillerson said, according to the transcript. He noted that Kushner replied he would “try to do better,” but said that ultimately, “not much changed.”
The former secretary of state also described his working relationship with the president, noting that to get Trump to pay attention, he had to be “very concise”
“I’m sure other Presidents operated differently and probably like to read all 150 pages and get into the nitty-gritty of it, and that’s great,” Tillerson said of a hypothetical briefing. “It’s just not the way this President operates. But once we had a decision from him it didn’t get in the way then of the agencies going to execute.”