Trump’s Team Was Desperate for Back Channel with Moscow

On at least three occasions did the president’s underlings propose to bypass the American national security apparatus.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 10
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 10 (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the president’s top advisors, proposed setting up a secret back channel with the Kremlin in December during a meeting that was also attended by General Michael Flynn.

According to The Post, Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, reported to Moscow in a cable that was intercepted by American spies that Kushner had suggested to him using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the back channel.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

You think?

Secret meetings

This is not the first report we have of Trump’s underlings attempting to establish their private diplomacy with Russia.

In April, The Washington Post reported that the founder of private security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince, held a meeting with somebody close to Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles for that same purpose.

We don’t know if the meeting was sanctioned by either Putin or Trump. We do know Prince contributed some $250,000 to the Republican’s election campaign.

Earlier this month, Reuters cited four American officials saying Flynn had also talked with Kislyak separately about setting up a back channel for Presidents Putin and Trump. The purpose was to bypass the American national-security bureaucracy, “which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.”

Not naive

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, we’ve wondered if they are simply incompetent. Do they think they’re so smart they don’t need to play by the rules? Or is there something sinister going on?

These revelations hint at the latter.

You don’t need to be a security professional to understand that going behind the backs of the entire American intelligence and foreign-policy apparatus in order to communicate with the Russians is a bad idea.

And Flynn was a security professional. He ran the Pentagon’s intelligence agency for two years. Kushner may have been naive; Flynn could not possibly have been.

Russia investigations

This isn’t even the end of Team Trump’s ties to Russia. Far from it.

Flynn has already resigned as national security advisor — making his the shortest tenure in American history — after it emerged he had failed to disclose myriad contacts with Russian officials and lobbying activities for Turkey.

Kushner is also under FBI scrutiny for meeting secretly with the head of Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov, a former Russian spy and Putin confidant.

Vnesheconombank has been under sanction by the United States since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. It is seen as an instrument of the Russian state.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, met with Kislyak as well. After that was reported in the media, Sessions promised to recuse himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, only to go back on that promise when his Justice Department supposedly recommended firing James Comey, the director of the FBI, who was leading the Russia probe.

Trump had asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. When Comey refused, Trump turned to the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, to ask them to publicly deny there was evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. When Coats and Rogers refused, Trump asked the Justice Department for an excuse to fire Comey.

Meeting Kislyak and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, at the White House the next day, Trump boasted that firing the “nut job” Comey had taken “great pressure” off of him, according to a report in The New York Times.