Kushner Defended as Top Democrat Questions Security Clearance

  • Homeland Security head sees nothing wrong with Russia contacts
  • Schiff wants review of allegations Kushner sought back channel

Jared Kushner.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Even as a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet said he doesn’t see reports of White House adviser Jared Kushner seeking secret communications with Russia as “any big deal,” a top House Democrat said the security clearance for Trump’s son-in-law needs to be reviewed.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who appeared on three Sunday political talk shows, said he wasn’t concerned about Kushner’s actions. He said back-channel talks, even by an incoming administration with a foreign adversary, are good.

“Just because you have a back channel, if indeed that’s what Jared was after, doesn’t mean that he then keeps everything secret,” Kelly said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I don’t see any big issue here.”

“Any time you have channels of communication with a country, particularly one like Russia, I wouldn’t criticize it,” Kelly said separately on “Fox News Sunday”

Representative Adam Schiff of California said he does see an issue, if Kushner sought those discussions and didn’t disclose them. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Kushner should appear before the panel and that his security clearance needs to be reviewed.

Schiff said he could neither confirm nor deny the reports about Kushner, but if they are accurate, “it’s obviously very concerning.”

Kelly’s comments, the closest anyone from the Trump administration has come to confirming reports that Kushner sought secret talks with the Russians before Inauguration Day, came the morning after the president returned to the U.S. from his first overseas trip.

The twists and turns on Trump and Russia

The reports, in light of intelligence that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election and help Trump win, have raised questions about Kushner’s role at the White House going forward, as FBI and Congressional probes continue. Kushner, 36, is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and serves as a senior adviser to the president.

It also comes as reports circulate almost daily that Trump is about to start a major shake-up of White House staff after little more than four months in office.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he isn’t yet ready to seek a revocation of Kushner’s clearance.

“It raises very serious concerns for me,” Booker said. “And that could be a potential outcome that I seek, but I want to understand, at least hear from Jared Kushner, as well as the administration, about what was exactly going on there.”

‘Prudent Course’

Kushner has made it clear he’s willing to answer any questions about the matter, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“They reached out to us yesterday to make sure that we knew that was the case, and I’m sure he’s willing to do so,” Corker said. “Talking with him directly and getting him to answer any and all questions as he said he would do, would probably be the prudent course of action.”

Still, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper questioned any communication that may have occurred with Russia -- a primary U.S. adversary -- before Trump assumed office on Jan. 20.

“We have a time-honored custom that we have one president and one administration at a time,” Clapper said on NBC. “And oncoming administrations don’t get a head-start before the end of the current president’s incumbency.”

‘Chasing Our Tails’

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it makes no sense that the Russian ambassador who reportedly spoke with Kushner would report that conversation to Moscow, knowing the U.S. would be monitoring the communications.

“We’re chasing our tails as a nation when it comes to the Russians,” Graham said in CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I don’t trust this story as far as I can throw it.”

Schiff also said that even if the topic of Kushner’s secret communication was about how best to resolve the years-long conflict in Syria, that doesn’t mitigate the situation because Russia’s objectives are different from those of the U.S. -- especially given the intelligence on Russia’s interference in the election.

“If American policy was going to change for the wrong reason, that is, as a ‘thank you’ to their intervention in the campaign, obviously that’s very problematic,” he said.

Trump, meanwhile, resumed his Twitter postings from the White House on Sunday and dismissed any story based on anonymous sources.

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” Trump said in one message to his 30.8 million followers.

— With assistance by Terrence Dopp, and Ben Brody

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