WASHINGTON ― The secretary of homeland security defended on Sunday reports that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner discussed establishing a secret backchannel between Trump’s transition team and Russian officials, claiming that it was “normal” and “acceptable.”
“Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told ABC’s Martha Raddatz. “It’s not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government.”
The report, published by The Washington Post late Friday, originated during a previously reported meeting between Kushner and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December, before Trump became president. Also present at the meeting was former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired earlier this year for lying to administration officials about discussing sanctions with Russia.
Like Trump and his top aides, Kelly dismissed the mounting scandals facing the administration by insisting that the real problem is the leaking of information, which is “darn close to treason,” the retired general said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Trump himself reportedly leaked classified information to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting earlier this month.
The reports about Kushner come as he is being investigated as part of the FBI’s probe into ties between Trump’s team and Russia. In addition to the meeting with Kislyak, Kushner also met with the head of a Russian state-owned bank.
Kelly on Sunday defended Kushner as “a great guy,” saying that there was no “big issue here.”
“I know Jared. He’s a great guy, decent guy,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “His number one interest, really, is the nation. So you know there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, backchannel, publicly with other countries. I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.”
Earlier this month, Trump abruptly fired FBI director James Comey, who had been leading the Russia probe. Before firing him, he had reportedly told Comey to stop his investigation of Flynn’s ties to Russia, according to Comey’s notes documenting a meeting with Trump.
The day after firing Comey, Trump met with Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in an Oval Office meeting that was only accessible to Russian state media and closed to American reporters. In addition to leaking classified information, Trump reportedly bragged to them about firing “real nut job” Comey and claimed that the sudden move lessened the “great pressure” on his administration.
Amid the mounting scandals, Trump on Saturday returned from his first foreign trip as president. Administration officials refused to comment on Kushner while on the trip, trying to deflect attention by characterizing the president’s meetings abroad as “going unbelievably well.”