There’s no good explanation if Jared Kushner did ask Russia’s ambassador to set up a secret way to communicate with the Kremlin, away from the watchful eyes of U.S. intelligence.
At best, Kushner was being remarkably naive – if you believe that a Harvard-educated lawyer wouldn’t know how out of bounds the request was. At worst, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser was suggesting something more sinister.
In any case, the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election – and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign – is now at the door of the Oval Office and inside the Trump family.
Beyond this meeting at Trump Tower in early December – during the transition between the election and Trump’s inauguration – there are reportedly several other contacts with Russian officials that Kushner failed to disclose on his security clearance form.
Also, the FBI is also reportedly looking into a December meeting between Kushner and a former intelligence officer appointed by Vladimir Putin as CEO of a Russian state-owned bank that is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case.
Democrats in Congress are calling for Kushner’s security clearance to be reviewed, or even revoked, until this is all cleared up. That should be the least of it.
The president, however, says he has “total confidence” in Kushner, and the White House has sought to minimize the meeting as normal diplomacy. Despite his attacks on “fake news” using unnamed sources, Trump on Tuesday retweeted a Fox News story that quoted an anonymous source saying that the Russians suggested a one-time secure line to discuss Syria.
But that isn’t what’s commonly thought of as a “back channel” – where unofficial talks happen with another country, or sensitive negotiations are conducted through a third nation with which the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations. Rather, this would be secret communications using an adversary’s equipment. And Kushner was still a private citizen, not yet a government official.
The dissembling and outright lies on Russia are piling up by the day.
Others in Trump’s inner circle – including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was at the December meeting at issue – also somehow failed to disclose meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
If there’s nothing nefarious going on, why did they to go such lengths to keep these contacts secret?
While there’s no definitive proof, the increasing number of incidents – Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in particular – appear to be more than coincidence. Do they help explain Trump’s highly unusual friendliness to Russia and Putin?
The president has reportedly brought in a private attorney and the White House has set up a “war room” to deal with the Russia inquiries by congressional committees, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Instead of hunkering down, Trump and his administration ought to be cooperating fully and coming clean with the American people. When they resist, it only deepens suspicions they’re trying to hide something real and damaging.