A proposed secret communications back channel between Donald Trump’s team and the Kremlin was reportedly intended to allow sensitive discussions about strategy in Syria, it was reported last night.
Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was revealed to have proposed setting up the secret line in a meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, at Trump Tower in December.
The back channel was intended to connect Michael Flynn, who was at the meeting and later became Mr Trump’s first National Security Adviser, with Russian military leaders, the Associated Press reported. It came as the nascent Trump administration was developing its Syria policy before his inauguration. The communications would have used Russian diplomatic facilities and bypassed the US intelligence services.
Such a system was never established and after Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State the idea was reportedly dropped as Mr Trump’s team decided to communicate with Moscow through more official channels.
The discussion of a back channel involving Mr Kushner was first revealed by the Washington Post late on Friday. US officials reportedly learned about it by monitoring Russian communications. Mr Kislyak was said to have been “taken aback” by Mr Kushner’s proposal.
It also emerged Mr Kushner had at least three interactions, including two phone calls, with Mr Kislyak, during and after the election, that had not been previously disclosed. The discussions reportedly focused on fighting terrorism and improving US-Russian economic relations
Mr Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick said: “Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
She said Mr Kushner could not remember any calls with Mr Kislyak before the election. She added: “Mr Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period.”
According to Reuters Mr Kushner also met Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, the head of Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank and a trained intelligence officer appointed by Vladimir Purin, at Trump Tower in December. The bank is under US sanctions.
The White House declined to answer questions about Mr Kushner’s meeting with Mr Kislyak.
But H.R. McMaster, who replaced Mr Flynn as National Security Adviser said so-called “back-channeling” was completely normal. Asked if it would concern him if someone in the Trump administration tried to set up a back channel with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin, he replied: “No”.
He said: “We have back-channel communications with any number of individual countries. What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee which is investigating any links between the Trump campaign and Russia, asked the campaign to produce all Russia-related documents, including phone records and emails, dating back to its official start in June 2015.