Asked about reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law had tried to set up a clandestine communication channel with Russia before the president took office, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said Saturday that so-called “back-channeling” was normal.
McMaster was in Taormina, Italy, on the sideline of the Group of Seven meetings, and he did not speak specifically about Jared Kushner, who is also a senior advisor to Trump. When asked if it would concern him, though, if someone in the administration tried to set up a back channel with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin, McMaster replied “no.”
“We have back-channel communications with any number of individual [countries]. So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner,” said McMaster.
“So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it.”
His comments come on a heels of The Washington Post report that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, discussed with Russia’s ambassador to Washington the possibility of setting up a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.
The Post quoted U.S. officials Friday as saying that the move was meant to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from scrutiny.
The Post’s sources said Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner made the proposal during an early-December meeting at Trump Tower in New York City. The sources said the information was detected through intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials.
On Thursday, U.S. news outlets reported that Kushner is being investigated by the FBI in its probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high stakes investigation, although it did not name Kushner then.
The FBI’s focus on Kushner does not necessarily mean he is suspected of a crime, nor is he considered a subject of the bureau’s wider probe of Russia.
This latest revelation comes two weeks after Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, who was responsible for overseeing the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation. Separately, at least four congressional committees are conducting their own probes into the matter.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin amid accusations from U.S. intelligence that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a sweeping campaign to tilt the vote in the Republican’s favor.