US & Canada

Trump team brush off Kushner 'secret Russia line' questions

Donald Trump and Jared Kushner Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jared Kushner (right) is a senior aide to Donald Trump

Senior US advisers have refused to answer questions about Donald Trump's son-in-law, following reports that Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret communication line with Moscow.

National Security Adviser HR McMaster said backchannel communications between different governments were normal.

Economic adviser Gary Cohn said: "We're not going to comment on Jared."

Mr Kushner is said to be under scrutiny as part of the FBI inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Reports in the US say investigators believe he has relevant information, but he is not necessarily suspected of a crime.

On Friday, the Washington Post and New York Times reported that Mr Kushner had wanted to use Russian facilities to avoid US interception of discussions with Moscow.

Lt Gen McMaster refused to comment on the specific reports against Mr Kushner, but said that he would not be concerned if a government official set up a secret line with Moscow.

"We have backchannel communications with any number of individual [countries]... what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner."

"I would not be concerned about it."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lt Gen McMaster said backchannels let governments "communicate in a discreet manner"

Mr Kushner reportedly took part in discussions about a backchannel with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, in December.

At the time, Mr Kushner was a private citizen, but working in Mr Trump's transition team.

While US government departments do set up secure lines with foreign leaders, it is unusual for a transition team to do so, the Washington Post reports.

The backchannel would also have been unusual as it would have used Russian hardware at its embassies in the US, the report added.

Mr Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn was said to be present at the meeting.

Mr Flynn was fired in February after misleading the White House about his contact with Mr Kislyak.

Lt Gen McMaster and Mr Cohn, who were accompanying Mr Trump as part of his first foreign trip as president, were asked several times about the reports during a news conference in Italy.

However, Mr Cohn said "we're just not going to comment [on Mr Kushner]".

Mr Trump is on his way back to the US, following a G7 summit and meetings with EU, Nato and Middle Eastern leaders.

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