Donald Trump 'looks to contain damage' from latest Jared Kushner Russia revelations

President believed to be looking to change the way his message gets to the public, amid investigations threatening to undermine his term

Saturday 27 May 2017 21:30 BST
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (Reuters)

It is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for US President Donald Trump having returned to Washington from his first foreign trip - thanks to the latest revelations surrounding his team and Russia.

Following on from a difficult meeting with world leaders at a summit in Italy, Mr Trump and his team face reports that Mr Trump’s son-on-law - and top White House adviser - Jared Kushner had looked to set up a secret back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team.

It was meeting in December with Sergei Kislyak the Russian ambassador to the United States where Mr Kushner - who was a private citizen but involved in the transition to the White House -proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for back-channel discussions.

Mr Kislyak was said to have told his superiors that he was “taken aback” by the suggestion of using Russian facilities - the aim being making the conversations more difficult to monitor - for the line that was meant to be used to be to discuss Syria and other policy issues.

The White House did not acknowledge Mr Kushner attending the meeting - which also reportedly included than National security Adviser Michael Flynn - until March and called it a brief courtesy meeting.

The proposal was never acted upon, according to the Washington Post that first reported the story, but the actions of Mr Kusher are coming under increasing scrutiny as part of the FBI investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in last year’s Presidential election.

That investigation, and those in both the House of Representatives and the Senate into the election and potential ties between Mr Trump’s team and Moscow, have dogged Mr Trump and his team for months and have led to a number of negative headlines. These only increased after the firing earlier this month of FBI Director James Comey.

It is clear that Mr Trump and his team are looking to control the damage from such revelations and contain the crisis that is threatening to consume his presidency. Mr Trump and his advisers are believed to be looking at ways to change the way the White House communicates with the public - with more campaign-style rallies one of the apparent alterations being considered.

There were elements of such a strategy on display during his foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe over the last week - with Mr Trump the only world leader at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy not to give a press conference, while also then heading out to give a campaign-like speech to US soldiers based in the country.

Former CIA chief says intelligence showed links between Russians and Trump campaign members

Officials in the White House have also believed to have held discussions about setting up a “War Room” to shield the day-to-day running of the presidency from the various investigations underway. Those discussions are said to have been led - at least in part - by Mr Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, with Mr Trump also expected to hold discussions with his legal team and other advisers, with the New York Times reporting this could begin as early as Sunday.

One Saturday, Mr Trump also cancelled a rally in Iowa next week “due to an unforeseen change” in the President’s schedule, but there was no further elaboration.

It is clear that the Trump team are not looking to add to the reports over the actions of Mr Kushner, with top Trump aides making clear on Saturday that they would not address the contents of Mr Kushner's December meeting with the Russian diplomat. But they did not dismiss the idea that the administration would go outside normal US government and diplomatic channels for communications with other countries.

Speaking generally, national security adviser HR McMaster said “we have back channel communications with a number of countries… It allows you to communicate in a discreet manner.”

“So it doesn't pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we're not concerned about it,” he added.

In response to repeated questions from reporters, Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn said, “We're not going to comment on Jared. We're just not going to comment.”

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 weary of the scrutiny he has been placed under.

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