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