GIARDINI NAXOS, Italy – Two of President Donald Trump’s top aides Saturday refused to discuss a report that his son-in-law Jared Kushner had sought to create a secret back channel to open communications with Russia.
During a half-hour news conference marking the end of the two-day G7 summit in nearby Taormina, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said Trump had succeeded in all his goals for his inaugural foreign trip ― restore U.S. leadership, build relationships with other world leaders, and show unity among the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“Now, it is clear that the president delivered on all three,” McMaster said.
“The president wants you to know that the meetings are going unbelievably well,” Cohn added.
Neither, though, would talk about Kushner, who is also a top White House adviser. “Just not going comment on Jared,” Cohn said at one point. “We’re just not going to comment.”
McMaster did say that, generally speaking, he does not oppose all back channel communications with other nations, and that they are sometimes necessary. But he would not say whether that guideline would apply to what Kushner reportedly did.
A Washington Post report on Friday said Kushner had discussed the idea of setting up a communications channel using equipment at the Russian embassy to thwart U.S. surveillance systems of the pre-inauguration conversations. Trump’s initial national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was reportedly also involved.
Trump wrapped up his nine-day trip Saturday afternoon following visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and finally the meeting of the world’s largest democratically run economies at the seaside resort town on Sicily’s east coast. He did not hold any news conferences during the trip, instead answering the occasional question shouted at him.
Following the Memorial Day weekend, he will likely have to return to daily news reports about the ongoing FBI investigation into alleged contacts between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies.
The U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia worked to hurt Clinton and help Trump during the 2016 election, in part by stealing documents and emails from the Democratic Party and from Clinton’s campaign chairman and then releasing embarrassing ones on a near daily basis in the final weeks of the campaign through WikiLeaks.
Trump praised WikiLeaks for doing this in almost every campaign appearance in October, and for months claimed that it was impossible to know who had stolen the emails.