Naxos, Italy (CNN)President Donald Trump’s top economic and national security advisers on Saturday declined to comment on the swirl of allegations that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is facing regarding his contacts with Russian officials.
Kushner may have discussed creating a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin with Russia’s ambassador Sergei Kislyak, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing US officials briefed on intelligence reports.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, declined to say whether he would be concerned if a private citizen attempted to set up backchannel communications with a foreign government to influence US foreign policy and said he would not be concerned if a White House official attempted to do so.
“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster said.
McMaster and Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, swatted away the questions after reports surfaced that Kushner considered setting up a secret line of communication with Russia to discuss military options in Syria and other matters. A source with knowledge of the matter confirmed to CNN that Kushner first discussed creating the backchannel in a meeting last December with the Russian ambassador.
Kushner was a private citizen at the time, not a US government official.
The details were shared with CNN as an explanation to The Washington Post reporting, which comes from intercepts of conversations between Russia’s ambassador and Moscow.
Kislyak reportedly told higher-ups in Moscow that Kushner suggested the proposal in a December meeting at Trump Tower — which former national security adviser Michael Flynn also attended. Kushner “suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications,” the Post reported.
The idea was to have Flynn “speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues,” The New York Times reported Friday, citing three people with knowledge of the discussion.
“That’s something I’m not prepared to talk about,” McMaster said when he was first asked about the allegations.
Cohn said: “We’re not going to comment on Jared. We’re just not going to comment.”
Pressed repeatedly on the matter during a news conference on Saturday that was kept off camera at the White House’s insistence, McMaster also said he was not “involved with or have any knowledge of” any attempt on Kushner’s part to set up backchannel communications with Moscow.
The FBI, in the course of its investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election, is now also looking at Kushner’s multiple roles in Trump’s campaign operation and his contacts with Russian officials.
Kushner has acknowledged meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador to Washington, but Reuters, citing seven current and former US officials, reported Friday that Kushner had several previously undisclosed contacts with Russia’s ambassador — including two phone calls between April and November of 2016.
McMaster was visibly frustrated as he faced a barrage of questions from reporters on Saturday about Kushner’s contacts with the Russians. He urged reporters to instead ask him about foreign policy and national security issues that would have come up during the President’s first foreign trip, which has been dogged by the incessant flow of new allegations surrounding the President’s campaign associates’ contacts with Russian officials.