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Trump aide sought secret channel with Kremlin

28 May 2017

TAORMINA, Italy Asked about reports that Donald Trump's son-in-law had tried to set up a secret channel of communication with Russian Federation before the president took office, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that so-called "back-channeling" was normal.

Jared Kushner is reported to have made the proposal during a meeting with Russia's ambassador to Washington in December, according to the Washington Post.

The revelation has stoked new questions about Mr. Kushner's connections to Russian officials at a time when the F.B.I.is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Russia's attempts to disrupt last year's presidential election and whether any of Mr. Trump's advisers assisted in the Russian campaign.

The first from the New York Times said that Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch once close to Paul Manafort, Mr Trump's former campaign manager, offered to cooperate with congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in return for immunity.

Jared Kushner reportedly sought a secret line of communication with Moscow and failed to disclose several conversations with Russian officials prior to his father-in-law, USA president Donald Trump, taking office.

President Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Saturday he "would not be concerned" about having a back-channel communications system with Russian Federation, though he and other top White House officials refused to comment specifically on the growing controversy surrounding Jared Kushner.

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Federal investigators have been taking a closer look at the Trump campaign's data analytics operation, which was supervised by Kushner, officials say, and are examining whether Russian operatives used people associated with the campaign - wittingly or unwittingly - to try to help Russia's own data targeting.

Former Obama administration staffers told the Washington Post that Trump's transition team never sought to set up communications with Russian Federation through the White House.

The Russian ambassador was surprised by the request, according to reports citing unidentified United States officials.

He added, "I never understood why candidate Trump and I still don't understand why President Trump has given Russian Federation a pass".

As for Mr Kushner, he is apparently not looking to reduce his role as part of Mr Trump's team but he is said to have become increasingly tired of the scrutiny he has been placed under.

What role does Kushner hold in the Trump administration?

But officials said it is unclear what Mr Kislyak had to gain by falsely characterising his contacts with Mr Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Mr Trump. "We're just not going to comment".

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Kushner's attorney said that was a mere error and he told the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon after that he would amend the forms.

The interest in Kushner would move the investigation into the White House, though there is no indication that Kushner is accused of wrongdoing or that he is a target.

The New York Times reported on Friday that these communication lines were never set up, but their intended goal if executed had been to allow then-national security adviser Flynn to have secure and unfettered communication with Moscow about security issues.

Their report quotes unidentified current and former USA officials, who said two of these contacts were phone calls.

"Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings", Gorelick said in a statement Thursday.

Mr Flynn was pushed out of the White House in February after officials said he misled vice president Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed USA sanctions against Russian Federation in a phone call. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, including at the Republican National Convention, and CNN reported this week that Justice Department officials said Sessions did not disclose the Kislyak meetings on his security clearance application.

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Trump aide sought secret channel with Kremlin