WASHINGTON – Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the contact President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner made with Russian officials raised red flags in the intelligence community.
“I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community, very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians,” Clapper told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
New reporting revealed that Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December about the possibility of setting up back channel communication between the Kremlin and Trump’s transition team.
Kushner also met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions.
Asked about his knowledge of those meetings, Clapper said they are concerning, especially given the context of Russians interfering with the election that Trump just had won.
“And just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique,” Clapper said. “So we were concerned.”
Trump’s team has sought to downplay the meetings as nothing nefarious and a way to build relations with Russia.
But critics say the meetings are troubling and Kushner’s access to sensitive information through his security clearance should come under scrutiny.
“If these allegations are true and he had discussions with the Russians about establishing a back channel and didn’t reveal that, that’s a real problem in terms of whether he should maintain that kind of a security clearance,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told ABC’s “This Week.”
Schiff expects Kushner to appear before his House Intelligence Committee, which is one of several bodies investigating Russian interference in the presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly denied there was any collusion between his campaign and the Russians to disrupt the US presidential election.
Intelligence agencies blame the Russians for a string of damaging Democratic email leaks that hurt Hillary Clinton.
Defenders of Trump, specifically National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, are putting their credibility in jeopardy, Schiff said.
“Sadly I think this is an administration that takes in people with good credibility and chews them out and spits out their credibility at the same time,” Schiff said. “…Anyone within the Trump orbit is at risk of being used.”
Clapper, who served as head of the intelligence agencies until Jan. 20, said he’s seen “no smoking gun” in the intelligence reports. However, he believes the FBI probe was rightfully triggered to dig deeper.
“I did not see any smoking gun certitude evidence of collusion,” Clapper said. “But it certainly was appropriate for – given all the signs – certainly appropriate for the FBI – and necessary for the FBI to investigate.”