Trump aide sought secret channel with Kremlin: reports

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, said to have had undisclosed contacts with Russian ambassador to US

NEW YORK(AA)-President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner sought a secret channel of communication last December between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, according to U.S. media reports.

Kushner suggested the idea to Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, during an undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower also attended by the president’s embattled former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, the reports said late Friday.

The channel would be created inside Russia’s diplomatic facilities in the U.S., apparently in a bid to evade monitoring by the American intelligence community.

The reports — first by the Washington Post and subsequently the New York Times — came a day after it was reported that Kushner was being investigated by the FBI as part of a probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

Reuters reported separately on Friday that Kushner had at least three contacts with Kislyak that he failed to disclose on security clearance forms, which — if proven true — would constitute a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

U.S. intelligence officials became aware of Kushner’s suggestion to Kislyak for a secret channel after reviewing intercepts of the Russian ambassador’s communications with Moscow following the meeting in New York City, according to the Washington Post.

Kislyak reportedly expressed surprise at the idea of letting a U.S. official use Russian communications equipment at its embassy or consulate, as such a move would be fraught with security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team, the Post reported.

One former senior intelligence official told the newspaper that the FBI would quickly find out about a Trump transition official going in and out of a Russian diplomatic mission.

The intelligence official characterized Kushner’s alleged idea for a secret channel as “extremely naive or absolutely crazy”.

Former CIA Director John McLaughlin late Friday urged investigators to get to the bottom of the reports on Kushner-Kislyak contacts.

“I can’t keep out of my mind the thought that if an American intelligence officer had done anything like this, we’d consider it espionage,” McLaughlin told the MSNBC network.

He said the Trump administration at the senior levels was being “consumed by its own hubris” in how it engaged with global actors.

The discussion of a secret channel is the latest in a series of controversial reports and leaks regarding the Trump team’s contacts with Russia.

Former national security advisor Flynn was forced to resign in February — 24 days into Trump’s presidency — after he was found to have misled administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his communications with Ambassador Kislyak.

In March, Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election after he too failed to disclose to the Senate two meetings he held with Kislyak.

On May 9, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who helmed a probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian officials.

A week later, reports citing Comey’s personal notes suggested that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn’s Russia contacts.

Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee, it announced last week. A date has not been set.

The reports on the former FBI chief’s memos have fueled speculation that if proven, the allegations might trigger an impeachment process against the president for obstruction of justice.

The Trump campaign’s ties with Moscow and Russia’s interference in the presidential election are currently under investigation in three separate probes conducted by committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the FBI.