John Kelly: Homeland Security Secretary Calls Russia Backchannel ‘Normal And Acceptable’

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly appeared on Meet the Press this morning and told host Chuck Todd, “I don’t see any issue here related to Jared.” His comment was regarding recent news of increased scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. On Friday, the Washington Post, reported that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his superiors that he had a conversation with Kushner and now-ousted security adviser Michael Flynn about using Russian facilities to establish backchannel communications between the Trump transition team and Russia. The conversation took place on December 1 or 2 at Trump Tower. It was Kushner’s suggestion that the line of communication be set up using Russian facilities, an arrangement that would mean that interactions on the channel could not be monitored by the U.S. The White House disclosed the meeting in March.

When asked if he believes that it was poor judgement to consider such an arrangement given that American intelligence had indicated at the time that Russia may have infiltrated and sought to influence our elections, Kelly noted its timing and said, “Well you know, it was before the government was in place during the transition period, I think. And I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not so good friends, it’s a smart thing to do.”

Adding to concerns about this specific conversation with the Russian ambassador is the fact that Kushner did not disclose the conversation on his application for security clearance. He also failed to report two phone calls with the ambassador last year.

Others have also come to the defense of Jared Kushner. Also appearing on Meet the Press this morning was Senator Bob Corker who said that Kushner representatives had reached out to him and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to let them know that he is willing to speak with them and to be open and honest about what took place. Corker said that at this time, they are letting the situation unfold and that they will speak with him “when the time is right. “

CBS News also reports that National security adviser H.R. McMaster made this comment about the situation.

“We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. So, generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner.”

Appearing on ABC This Week today was Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who had a very different view of Kushner’s communications with Russia. He stated that what is concerning about the conversation is the context in which it took place.

“It was the context of an election campaign in which the Russians had been intervening to help Donald Trump, to hurt Hillary Clinton. And, of course, if these reports are accurate, right after that campaign, after that intervention to have the president’s son-in-law, a key player within the Trump organization, try to establish a backchannel with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility – you have to ask, ‘Well, who are they hiding the conversations from?'”

While there have been many allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election that helped Donald Trump win, the investigation into these allegations is ongoing, and an official finding as to whether or not it happened has not yet been reached.

John Kelly also appeared on ABC This Week and maintained that he doesn’t see any issues with Jared Kushner’s actions at this time.

Some have suggested that Jared Kushner’s actions were the result of a lack of knowledge. Business Insider reports that a recently retired FBI agent, Scott Olson, had this to say.

“He wants high-level direct-contact communication. This is extremely dangerous because it results in verbal (and therefore undocumented and unwitnessed) agreements, which are binding on governments. Free governments do not work this way. They can’t. If they do, they are no longer free.”

He added that the nature of the backchannel proposed by Kushner would be very risky because it’s “recorded by the opposing party…. This shows a staggering lack of understanding of the US and its place in the world.”

You can view both this morning’s Meet the Press and This Week in full below.

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