Trump administration officials and several powerful Republican senators have rushed to the defense of White House adviser Jared Kushner over reports that he discussed establishing secure backchannel communications with Russia’s government during the transition.
While some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), are questioning the veracity of the articles, first reported by the Washington Post Friday, others, like Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, are making the remarkable case that Trump’s son-in-law secretly communicating with the Kremlin would be a “good thing.”
Acknowledging that Kushner’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak occurred “during the transition period, I think,” Kelly told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday that he sees no cause for concern.
“I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do,” Kelly said. “I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.”
National security adviser H.R. McMaster, too, argued that attempting to circumvent the traditional national security apparatus without the knowledge of the Obama administration would not be outside the norm.
“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster said. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so I’m not concerned.”
Foreign policy experts and former officials disagree.
In interviews with the Post, they said Kushner’s reported plan, made when he was still a civilian, could have left him exposed to exploitation by Russian officials.
Graham, a Russia hawk, said he just didn’t buy the story as reported by the Post.
“I think it makes no sense that the Russian ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we’re monitoring,” Graham told CNN’s Dana Bash, claiming that he didn’t “trust this story as far as I can throw it.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) cautioned against “hyperbole” in discussing Kushner’s conversations with Kislyak.
“Sounds like he’s more than glad to talk about all of these things and instead of getting wrapped up into a lot of hyperbole, as these things can sometimes do, I think talking with him directly and getting him to answer any and all questions as he said he would do would probably be the prudent course of action,” Corker told NBC.
The President himself has yet to comment on the substance of the reports, issuing a vague statement saying he maintains “total confidence” in Kushner, who he called “a very good person.”