Democrats ques­tion Kush­ner’s Rus­sia ties, urge se­cu­rity clear­ance re­view //


WASHINGTON — Con­gres­sional Democrats on Sun­day de­manded to hear di­rectly from top White House ad­viser Jared Kush­ner over al­le­ga­tions of pro­posed se­cret back-chan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Rus­sia, say­ing the se­cu­rity clear­ance of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law may need to be re­voked.

Trump, hav­ing re­turned from a nine­day overseas trip, im­me­di­ately railed against ad­min­is­tra­tion leaks, call­ing them “fab­ri­cated lies,” in a flurry of tweets.

And his Home­land Se­cu­rity head de­fended the idea of es­tab­lish­ing that kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion as a “smart thing” and said he didn’t see “any big is­sue here” for Kush­ner.

But to the top Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, it’s “ob­vi­ously very con­cern­ing” that a key Trump cam­paign fig­ure was pos­si­bly seek­ing se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tions with a coun­try that in­tel­li­gence ex­perts say in­ter­vened in the 2016 elec­tion.

Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia said the gov­ern­ment needed to “get to the bot­tom” of the mat­ter and urged a re­view of Kush­ner’s se­cu­rity clear­ance “to find out whether he was truth­ful.”

“If not, then there’s no way he can main­tain that kind of a clear­ance,” Schiff said.

The As­so­ci­ated Press and other news or­ga­ni­za­tions re­ported that Kush­ner in De­cem­ber pro­posed a back chan­nel be­tween the Krem­lin and the Trump tran­si­tion team. Kush­ner spoke with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak about fa­cil­i­tat­ing sen­si­tive dis­cus­sions to ex­plore the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion’s op­tions with Rus­sia as it de­vel­oped its Syria pol­icy.

The in­tent was to con­nect Trump’s chief na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Rus­sian mil­i­tary lead­ers, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions told the AP.

The per­son wasn’t au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss pri­vate pol­icy de­lib­er­a­tions and in­sisted on anonymity.

Rus­sia, a piv­otal player in Syria, has backed Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, of­ten at the ex­pense of civil­ians and at odds with U.S. pol­icy dur­ing Syria’s long civil war.

The White House did not ac­knowl­edge the meet­ing or Kush­ner’s at­ten­dance un­til March. At the time, a White House of­fi­cial dis­missed it as a brief cour­tesy meet­ing.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a mem­ber of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, de­scribed the lat­est al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing Kush­ner as “se­ri­ous” and called for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“He needs to an­swer for what was hap­pen­ing at the time,” Booker said. “What’s wor­ry­ing me are the pat­terns we’re see­ing. So one is this ad­min­is­tra­tion not talk­ing about our val­ues, cozy­ing up to au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers. And the other pat­tern we have is just a con­tin­u­ous drum­beat of in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tacts with the Rus­sians.”

Lawyers for Kush­ner said he was will­ing to talk with fed­eral and con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors about his for­eign con­tacts and his work on the Trump cam­paign.

The dis­clo­sure of the back chan­nel put the White House on the de­fen­sive. Just back from vis­it­ing the Mid­dle East and Europe, Trump on Sun­day dis­missed re­cent re­ports as “fake news.”

“It is my opin­ion that many of the leaks com­ing out of the White House are fab­ri­cated lies,” Trump tweeted. He added: “When­ever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news me­dia, and they don’t men­tion names … it is very pos­si­ble that those sources don’t ex­ist.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly said he didn’t know if the news re­ports were true but de­scribed back-chan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tions as a “good thing.”

He was echo­ing the sen­ti­ment of Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster, who de­clined to ad­dress the con­tents of Kush­ner’s De­cem­ber meet­ing with the Rus­sian diplo­mat to re­porters in Si­cily over the week­end and sug­gested that back-chan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tions were com­mon­place and not con­cern­ing.

“It’s both nor­mal, in my opin­ion, and ac­cept­able,” Kelly said. “Any way that you can com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly or­ga­ni­za­tions that are maybe not par­tic­u­larly friendly to us is a good thing.”

“I don’t see the big deal,” he added.


Jared Kush­ner, se­nior ad­viser and son-in-law of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, shakes hands with Pope Fran­cis at the Vat­i­can last week.

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