Donald Trump calls leaks 'fabricated lies' as he returns to mounting crisis over Jared Kushner's alleged Russia links

There is mounting talk whether the President's son-in-law may have to take a leave of absence

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Sunday 28 May 2017 15:18 BST
Mr Trump returned from his first overseas visit as President to fresh problems
Mr Trump returned from his first overseas visit as President to fresh problems (AP)

Donald Trump has labelled leaks about the interactions of his son-in-law with Russia “fabricated lies”, as he returned to Washington to confront a mounting political crisis.

As Mr Trump was set to meet his own criminal defence lawyer, and his closest aides were setting up a “war room” to tackle the latest fallout over his campaign’s alleged links to Russia, the President turned his focus to one of his favourite targets – the media.

“Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results,” he said on Twitter. “It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the Fake News media.”

Mr Trump returned on Saturday night from a nine-day foreign trip, his first as President. Yet while Mr Trump was largely able, while he was overseas, to keep away from the controversy over his campaign's alleged collusion with Moscow to influence the 2016 election, once he set foot back in Washington it was there to engulf him.

The latest developments focus on Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and husband of his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump. Last week, it was confirmed the 36-year-old, who had been at the helm of Mr Trump’s campaign, was the focus of the FBI’s ongoing investigation.

It was then reported that, in what at least would have been an act of no small naivety, Mr Kushner had last year asked the Russian ambassador to the US to establish a secret backchannel using Russia’s communication systems to enable the Trump transition team to talk to Moscow.

The request was reportedly made at a meeting at Trump Tower, and the communications were intercepted by US intelligence and then leaked to The Washington Post. There is said to be mounting talk that Mr Kushner may have to step aside from his role.

Melania wears a jacket that cost just below an American's median annual salary

Reports said Mr Kushner, one of the few people Mr Trump appears to trust without question, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign.

Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University in New York, told The Independent the President was now facing a genuine dilemma. "We've seen in the past how quickly he is to cut people loose when he needs to," she said. "But this situation needs to be much more carefully thought through. This is not someone he just met a few months ago, or a few years ago. This is family."

Democrats and critics of Mr Trump have seized on the revelations and said they are more evidence that the New York tycoon was trampling on democratic traditions.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he wanted Mr Kushner to give evidence before members of Congress. He also said Mr Kushner’s security clearance ought to be be looked at.

“I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance to find out whether he was truthful, whether he was candid. If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Mr Schiff told ABC.

The same channel said there was growing discussion within the White House as to whether Mr Kushner may have to take a leave of absence from his duties, until the controversy is resolved one way or another.

Mr Kushner, through his lawyer, has offered to cooperate with such investigations but has otherwise maintained a low profile since returning from the President’s trip several days early.

Republicans have hit back. John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said he thought Mr Kushner’s request to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was both “normal” and “appropriate”.

“Anytime you can communicate with people, especially organisations who are not particularly friendly to us, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Whatever the communication is, it comes back to the government and is shared.”

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said he did not “trust this story as far as I can throw it”.

“We’re chasing our tails, as a nation, when it comes to the Russians. I don’t know who leaked this supposed conversation,” he told CNN. “But just think about it this way. You’ve got the ambassador to Russia reporting back, on an open channel, ‘Hey, Jared Kushner’s gonna move into the embassy’.

“I think it makes no sense that the Russian ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we’re monitoring.”

Reports suggest Mr Trump is scheduled to meet soon with a hard-hitting New York lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, whom he has retained to help deal with the FBI investigation. Mr Kasowitz has known Mr Trump for decades and represented him in numerous cases, including his divorce records, and allegations about Trump University.

Mr Kasowitz recently acted on behalf of Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News anchor who was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment. Mr O’Reilly denied the claims.

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