White House officials refuse to comment directly on report that Kusher sought secret back-channel for dialogues between Trump team and Moscow
Donald Trump will on Saturday return from his first overseas trip as president, a nine-day, multi-city tour of the Middle East and Europe, to find Washington roiled by the latest revelations in the Russia investigation.
During a press briefing at the G7 conference in Taormina, Sicily, White House officials refused to comment immediately on a Washington Post report that Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law and senior consultant, discussed setting up a secret back channel for conversations between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.
Were not going to comment on Jared were just not, Gary Cohn, the White House economic adviser, told reporters after recurred questions, in an attempt to steer the focus back to Trumps overseas trip.
HR McMaster, Trumps national security adviser, also refused to comment on the story specifically but said that he was not concerned.
We have back-channel communications with a number of countries so, generally speaking about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner, McMaster said.
According to the Post, citing intercepts of communications reviewed by US officials, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak told superiors in Moscow that Kushner proposed setting up the channel, meant to shield pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring by US intelligence officials, during a December meeting at Trump Tower in New York City.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly called for a reset of US-Russia relations, and raised concerns with flattering statements about Russian chairman Vladimir Putin. After the election, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia intervening in the campaign in an effort to undermine Trumps opponent, Hillary Clinton. The FBI and several congressional committees are investigating contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials.
The Post report on Kushner added the caveat that Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and embarrassment among US analysts. But officials said it was unclear what Kislyak would gain by mischaracterizing a dialogue with Kushner, especially given the prospect of improving relations between the two countries.
Earlier this week it was reported that the FBI is looking into Kushners contacts with Russia, a first sign that the results of this survey has reached not only the presidents inner circle but their own families. According to the Post, the FBI considers the Trump Tower session between Kushner and Kislyak, which the White House disclosed in March, of investigative interest.
Kushner has not commented but through a lawyer has said he will cooperate in the investigation.
Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings, attorney Jamie Gorelick said in a statement on Thursday. He will do the same if he is contacted in matters relating to any other inquiry.
Following the Post report on Friday, two other news outlets published stories related to the Trump campaign and Russia.
Reuters, quoting seven current and former US officials, reported that Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Kislyak during and after the 2016 election, including two telephone call between April and November. In response, Kushners attorney said Kushner did not remember any bellows with Kislyak between April and November.
Mr Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described, Gorelick said. We have asked[ Reuters] for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information.
Kislyak has emerged as a central figure in several Russia-related disputes. In February Michael Flynn, Trumps first national security consultant, resigned after misinforming the administration about his contacts with Russia, including extensive communications with the diplomat. Attorney General Jeff Sessions afterward recused himself from supervising the FBI investigation into Russia after failing to disclose two sessions with Kislyak.
In a 10 May meeting in the Oval Office, held the day after Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Trump reportedly relayed highly sensitive information about the Islamic State in Syria to Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
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