Investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election aren’t only getting close to Donald Trump, they’ve begun to stir up concerns about the chain of command.
Reports that top White House adviser Jared Kushner attempted to establish a secret communication link with Russia has an ex-CIA official wondering if he was acting on his own or following orders — and if so, whose orders.
“I’m going to presume he did this at the behest of the president-elect of the United States,” former CIA official Phillip Mudd said on CNN Monday.
Mudd was referring to last week’s Washington Post report that Kushner met in December with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. to discuss establishing a secret communication channel to the Kremlin that could not be monitored by U.S. intelligence — using Russian facilities. The link was not established, the Post reported.
“There’s a judgment by Jared Kushner and the president’s team that says, ‘I trust the Russians more than I trust the Americans. I’m going to go talk to the Russian embassy because I don’t trust American channels,’” Mudd said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza also said he doesn’t believe Kushner was “lone-wolfing” it at the time, but was following orders from Trump, who is his father-in-law, or Michael Flynn, who would later be booted from the role of national security adviser over his ties to Russia.
“I find it hard to believe … that he was lone wolfing it on this — that he developed a plan entirely independent of Donald Trump or Mike Flynn or anybody else,” Cillizza said. “Yes, he is a member of the family, he is a trusted adviser. But he’s not someone who believes he should just go and run channels, particularly at that point, particularly in the transition period.”
Without directly addressing the Post report, Trump defended Kushner in a statement to The New York Times published Sunday, saying he has “total confidence in him.” Kushner, Trump added, is “respected by virtually everyone” and “is a very good person.”
After he returned from Europe, the president also disparaged White House leaks and “fake news” from the media in a series of tweets, apparently in response to a number of damaging news stories last week, including the Kushner report.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has called for a review of Kushner’s security clearance.
Kushner emerged last week as a person of interest in the FBI probe into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and possible links to the Trump campaign.