White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday refused to answer questions about Jared Kushner’s reported efforts to establish a secret communications channel with the Kremlin using Russian facilities.
He never denied the Washington Post’s reporting from Friday, which was based on unnamed U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. The Post reported the claim originated in intercepted Russian communications.
The Post’s Philip Rucker kicked off Spicer’s daily press briefing Tuesday, his first on-camera in two weeks, by asking if President Donald Trump “knew at the time that Jared Kushner was seeking to establish back channel communications at the Russian embassy to the Russian government, and if he didn’t know at the time, when did he find out?”
“I think that assumes a lot, and I would just say that Mr. Kushner’s attorney has said that Mr. Kushner’s volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings, and he will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” Spicer responded.
“Did the President discuss it, though?”
“I’m not going to get into what the President did or did not discuss,” Spicer said. “What your question assumes a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out.”
Rucker kept asking, and Spicer kept stonewalling, except to say that “[Homeland Security] Sec. Kelly and [National Security Adviser] Gen. McMaster have both discussed that in general terms, back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.”
That echoed the justification given by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway Tuesday morning.
However, using Russian facilities for such back channels is not normal.
The Daily Mail’s Francesca Chambers challenged Spicer’s criticism of anonymous sources in news reports: Trump himself retweeted on Tuesday an unbylined Fox News report, which cited one unnamed source, claiming that Russia had instigated the discussion of a secret backchannel with Kushner, not the other way around, as the Post had reported.
“Was the President not confirming that — that there was an effort, and the facts that I just said?” she asked, after describing Fox News’ reporting.
“I think what I said just speaks for itself,” Spicer said, referring to his responses to Rucker.
“But you say that, first of all, that the article was based on anonymous sources,” she interjected, pointing to Trump’s own seeming double standard on citing anonymous sources.
“Which it is,” Spicer said, referring to the Post’s anonymous sources.
“But the Fox article that the President retweeted was also based on anonymous sources,” she pressed. “Why is the source that they used more credible than the Washington Post article?”
Spicer dodged, eventually moving on without commenting directly on any report: “Again, I’m not going to get into confirming stuff. There is an ongoing investigation.”
Asked again later how it could have been appropriate for Kushner, as a private citizen, to attempt to establish a channel to the Kremlin through Russian facilities, Spicer referred to Kelly and McMaster again.
“I think that both of those individuals who are steeped in national security and foreign policy have said that that can be an effective tool, generally speaking, in diplomacy,” he said.