Fox News source: Russian ambassador suggested secure back channel to Russia to Kushner, not vice versa
I sure hope this is true, especially now that Trump has tweeted out a link to the story. Because if it isn’t, and the Russians can prove that Jared floated the idea, they’ve got something they can hold over both his and Trump’s heads.
Say, aren’t we supposed to distrust stories with anonymous sources, especially if they’re based on a single anonymous source?
A December meeting between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the senior advisers in the Trump administration, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower focused on Syria, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News Monday.
During the meeting the Russians broached the idea of using a secure line between the Trump administration and Russia, not Kushner, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News. That follows a recent report from The Washington Post alleging that Kushner wanted to develop a secure, private line with Russia.
The idea of a permanent back channel was never discussed, according to the source. Instead, only a one-off for a call about Syria was raised in the conversation.
A lot depends on what the word “secure” means. Secure from whom? From hackers who might listen in? Presumably that could be arranged easily on a secure domestic line. If instead Kislyak meant secure from U.S. intelligence, that’s a bigger deal because that’s the key accusation against Kushner. It’s not that he wanted to open a back channel to Moscow to talk about Syria or whatever else, it’s that he allegedly wanted to use Russian diplomatic facilities to do it, presumably to avoid eavesdropping by the NSA. If it was Kislyak who proposed that, not Kushner, then Kushner’s gotten a very raw deal from WaPo. In fact, unless I missed something, WaPo’s still the only news outlet to claim that Kushner wanted to use Russia’s facilities for the back channel. The Times reported on Friday that it couldn’t independently confirm that. Even today, the best the Times can do by way of corroboration is to note that the White House hasn’t denied WaPo’s story. Hmmmmm.
WaPo claimed on Friday that Kislyak was “taken aback” when Kushner suggested using the Russian embassy to talk to Moscow since the Russians wouldn’t want a top-ranking American getting a first-hand look at how their secure lines work. But maybe that’s false. Kislyak and his bosses might have concluded that it was a risk worth taking in the interest of procuring dynamite blackmail material against the new administration. If Kushner or Flynn had gone to the embassy to chat with Putin on their proprietary encrypted line unbeknownst to American spies, the recording could have been used as leverage against the White House for years. That would fit with a theory in which Kislyak, not Kushner, proposed using the embassy’s secure line to chat with Putin: It was a trap aimed at a naive newbie in Kushner and a loose cannon who was already friendly to Moscow in Flynn. If you’re more inclined to believe WaPo, though, it’s worth noting that their account and Fox’s account aren’t strictly contradictory. Kislyak might have said, “You know what? You should talk to Putin directly yourself. Let’s set up a secure line.” To which Kushner might have said, to Kislyak’s great surprise, “Great, we’ll do it at your place. That way Obama’s guys can’t listen in.” Oopsie.
If you missed it on Saturday, here’s my long, ponderous take on why, if Kushner wanted to use the Russian embassy as a back channel, that was probably incompetence at work, not malfeasance. The leading “malfeasance” theory is that Kushner was somehow looking to get paid by Moscow and wanted to discuss that directly, which would explain why he met with a top Putin crony/Russian banker a few days after the meeting with Kislyak. But if that were true, why would he have allowed Flynn to sit in on his meeting with Kislyak about opening a back channel? Even knowing that Flynn was friendly to Russia, Kushner would have been nuts to expose his corruption to another administration official with whom he wasn’t well acquainted. In all likelihood, the meeting with the banker was part of the effort to open a channel of communication with Putin, either by using the banker as a go-between or by arranging a summit between envoys. Kushner’s still a long way from being in serious legal trouble, at least based on what’s publicly known.
Update: Good question from a Twitter pal. Why is Fox’s source anonymous on a pro-Trump story? The White House has warned people repeatedly lately not to trust unnamed, unaccountable sources with an axe to grind over people willing to go on the record. So, given the chance to go on the record, Fox’s source … declines. Why?
Update: Another possibility via former ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul. Is this a set-up by Kislyak? I.e. did he invent this story about Kushner approaching him and whisper it to Moscow knowing that U.S. intelligence would pick it up?
The counter-argument: What would Kislyak gain by setting up Kushner? He’s arguably the most important advisor in the White House. Fabricating a story about him wanting to use Russia’s secure line as a back channel would piss Kushner off royally and jeopardize chances of detente with Russia.