KUSH­NER LANDS

US pres­i­dent’s son-in-law al­legedly pro­posed pre-in­au­gu­ra­tion se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tions link with Moscow

New Straits Times - - World -

WASH­ING­TON

DRODRIGO DUTERTE, pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines

ONALD Trump, just back from his first in­ter­na­tional trip as United States pres­i­dent, geared up to com­bat con­cerns yes­ter­day over aides’ ties to Rus­sia, in­clud­ing ex­plo­sive re­ports that his son-in-law sought a se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tions line with Moscow.

The lat­est furor was stirred up after The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported late on Fri­day that Jared Kush­ner, ar­guably Trump’s clos­est White House aide, and hus­band to the pres­i­dent’s el­dest daugh­ter, Ivanka, made a pre-in­au­gu­ra­tion pro­posal to the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to set up a se­cret, bug-proof link with the Krem­lin.

Kush­ner, 36, even sug­gested us­ing Rus­sian diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties in the US to pro­tect such a chan­nel from mon­i­tor­ing, The Wash­ing­ton Post said, quot­ing US of­fi­cials briefed on in­tel­li­gence re­ports.

The re­port, if con­firmed, would raise new ques­tions about the Trump team’s re­la­tion­ship with the Rus­sians, who US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say tried to sway the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Trump’s favour.

News re­ports said the White House, reel­ing from the ex­plo­sive devel­op­ments in the long-run­ning Rus­sia saga, is cre­at­ing a new rapid-fire com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit to re­spond to the con­tro­versy, led by Kush­ner, senior pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Steve Ban­non and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

After some de­lay, a senior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial en route back to the US capital briefed re­porters for al­most 25 min­utes, on mat­ters from an­titer­ror co­op­er­a­tion to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s view that the sum­mit had been a smash­ing suc­cess, de­spite huge dif­fer­ences on cli­mate change.

Trump planned to make an an­nounce­ment within the week on his cli­mate po­si­tion, the of­fi­cial said. But the of­fi­cial did not ad­dress the Kush­ner re­ports on Satur­day.

Trump re­turned here on Satur­day from his first over­seas trip, to the Mid­dle East and Europe. Ac­com­pa­nied by first lady Me­la­nia, Trump waved to re­porters as he made his way into the White House but made no com­ment.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster re­fused to talk about the al­le­ga­tions. But he said that in gen­eral: “We have back-chan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a num­ber of coun­tries. What that al­lows you to do is com­mu­ni­cate in a dis­crete man­ner. I would not be con­cerned about it.”

But a for­mer head of the US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency harshly con­demned Kush­ner’s al­leged ef­fort to set up a se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tions line, say­ing if it was true, it would re­veal a dan­ger­ous de­gree of ig­no­rance or naivete.

“What man­ner of ig­no­rance, chaos, hubris, sus­pi­cion, con­tempt would you have to have to think that do­ing this with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador was a good or ap­pro­pri­ate idea?” Michael Hay­den said on CNN.

He said he leaned to­wards “naivete” as an ex­pla­na­tion, though he did not find it com­fort­ing.

Mal­colm Nance, a re­tired naval of­fi­cer and ex­pert on ter­ror­ism and in­tel­li­gence, said: “This is now sin­is­ter. There is no way this can be ex­plained, from the in­tel­li­gence per­spec­tive.

“That is in­dica­tive of es­pi­onage ac­tiv­ity of an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen work­ing in league with a hos­tile gov­ern­ment,” he told MSNBC.

The Wash­ing­ton Post said Kush­ner’s se­cret com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­posal was made on Dec 1 or 2 at Trump Tower in New York, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­cepts of Rus­sian com­mu­ni­ca­tions that were re­viewed by US of­fi­cials.

Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for just 24 days, be­fore be­ing fired amid ques­tions about meet­ings he held with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, was also present, the news­pa­per re­ported.

The Wash­ing­ton Post said the Rus­sian am­bas­sador, Sergei

MON­DAY, MAY 29, 2017 Kislyak, was sur­prised by the fu­ture White House aide’s idea of a se­cret chan­nel and passed it on to the Krem­lin. The New York Times said the chan­nel was never es­tab­lished.

Trump faces a cas­cade of other wor­ries re­lated to the Rus­sia probe in the com­ing days, in­clud­ing tes­ti­mony by fired for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James Comey be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee.

The NYT re­ported on Fri­day that Oleg Deri­paska, a Rus­sian once close to Trump’s for­mer cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort, had of­fered to co­op­er­ate with con­gres­sional bod­ies prob­ing al­leged Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling.

Kush­ner boasts an enor­mous port­fo­lio of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der­scor­ing his im­por­tance as Trump’s chief aide-de-camp, de­spite hav­ing no ex­pe­ri­ence in pol­i­tics.

He is the only per­son cur­rently in the White House known to be un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

There have been a num­ber of as yet un­ex­plained con­tacts, dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign against Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and af­ter­wards, be­tween other top Trump aides and senior Rus­sian of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Flynn, US At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, Manafort and oth­ers.

For­mer CIA di­rec­tor John Bren­nan re­vealed this week that in­tel­li­gence chiefs had been look­ing into sus­pi­cious con­tacts be­tween Trump cam­paign as­so­ciates and Rus­sian of­fi­cials since the mid­dle of last year.

Trump de­nies any col­lu­sion with Rus­sia, call­ing the probe “the great­est witch hunt” in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal history. AFP

AFP PIC

United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (left), First Lady Me­la­nia Trump (sec­ond from left), White House senior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner (fourth from left) and Ivanka Trump at Ben Gu­rion In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Tel Aviv last Tues­day. Kush­ner is mar­ried to the pres­i­dent’s el­dest daugh­ter, Ivanka, and ar­guably Trump’s clos­est White House aide.

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